Putting a Face on the Budget Cuts

“When you have a key that you can put in the door, it gives you the chance to control your destiny” says Almon Hubbard, a formerly homeless veteran in Buffalo, NY. Thanks to HUD’s Veteran Affairs Supporting Housing program, “this is the first-time in my life that I have some stability,” he adds.

Jake Elser of South Berwick, Maine echoes Hubbard’s sentiments. “Right when I got that [Section 8] voucher, everything in my life started to turn around…. Now I can be stable. Now I can go somewhere with the potential that I have.” Elser has a bipolar disorder with psychotic tendencies, and getting a voucher allowed him to stabilize his life and obtain the medication he needed. Now he’s employed, living independently, and thriving.

The deficit reduction debate we’re seeing now can’t just be about topline numbers and percentage cuts. It has to include the voices and experiences of Hubbard, Elser, and millions of others whose lives have been transformed through the housing assistance they needed to achieve a basic measure of dignity and security.

With critical housing programs such as Section 8, Public Housing, and the Community Development Block Grant on the chopping block, there is a critical need to make the case for these programs and the power they have to strengthen families, communities and local economies.

Polls show that nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of the American public is concerned that the GOP deficit-reduction plan will take away needed protections for the poor and the disadvantaged and will “protect the rich at the expense of everyone else.” Personal stories like these validate that concern and put a human face on the GOP’s plan to make massive spending cuts, two-thirds of which will come from programs that help low-income Americans.

Half in Ten and the Coalition on Human Needs have launched the Road to Shared Prosperity, a story mapping project that aims to bring the voices of Hubbard and Elser to the forefront of the national debate on deficit reduction. We are looking for tenants, service providers, landlords, business owners, faith leaders, and other affected community members to share testimonials of how these programs have made a difference in their life, neighborhood, or business. To submit a story, go to: www.halfinten.org/grassroots/stories/submit. In the next month, we will be rolling these stories into an easily searchable interactive map that pairs stories we receive with state-by-state unemployment, hunger, and poverty data. In this way, we’ll be able to show that what is at stake is more than just one person’s struggle, but rather about systemic issues that federal programs are successfully addressing.

As Congress considers legislation to raise the debt ceiling, some policymakers are beginning to call for a backdoor approach called the global spending cap to achieve the same types of devastating budget cuts contained in the GOP budget proposal.

The spending cap, set at 20.6 percent of GDP, sounds innocuous enough, and it doesn’t publicly call for cuts to the programs helping Elser and Hubbard. Rather, it so severely limits federal spending (while doing nothing to raise revenues from those with the most resources) that it would ultimately force massive cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and SNAP/Food Stamps, at the same time so squeezing our domestic spending that programs like the Community Development Block Grant, LIHEAP, and McKinney-Vento Funds would face unprecedented cuts. Essentially, it’s a stealth way to implement the GOP budget proposal while members of Congress can comfortably trumpet that they “did something” about the deficit without naming specific programs.

But we don’t have to reduce our deficit by imposing arbitrary caps on spending. We don’t have to buy into the myth that our only two alternatives are disinvesting from our communities or facing a spiraling mountain of debt. In reality, the cost of the spending cuts made in the recent FY2011 spending bill is less than the one-year cost of last year’s tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. The cost of the mortgage interest deduction for vacation homes, which is left untouched in the GOP budget, is approximately the same amount as what we spend on affordable housing programs. Can we really say we can afford to give wealthy homeowners tax breaks on their second house while putting Elser and Hubbard back on the streets because we can’t afford the successful housing programs that helped turn their lives around?

Everyone agrees that we need to tackle our long-term deficits. But we don’t have to do so in a way that asks those with the least to sacrifice the most. At Half in Ten, we believe that by examining the entire budget, including defense, special interest tax subsidies, and strategies to curb long-term health care costs, we can responsibly tackle our debt.

Or as Almon Hubbard puts it, “There’s other veterans who will be coming home in the future, and they need the same opportunity that I’ve had.” Let’s make sure they have it.

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