These are difficult times for Americans: the housing market is in crisis, the job market has weakened, incomes are stagnant, and the cost of living is up. President Bush has submitted a budget for Fiscal Year 2009 that calls for cuts in education, health care, labor, housing, energy, infrastructure, and economic development programs that directly affect the quality of life for working- and middle-class African Americans. These cuts reflect misplaced priorities that are wrong not just for African Americans, but for all Americans. In the middle of a serious economic downtown, Democrats will work to invest in America’s priorities by funding the key domestic programs that strengthen our national and economic security.
Health Care and Nutrition
Since President Bush took office, health care costs, including health insurance premiums, have skyrocketed. More than 46.5 million people in the United States, nearly 16 percent, are without health insurance coverage, which more than nine million than in 2000. The African American community, however, experiences higher rates of uninsurance, at 7.7 million or 20.5 percent. With one in five African Americans without health insurance, it is no wonder that, as of 2005, 12 percent of African Americans reported that they were in fair or poor health, compared with nine percent of Whites. Even in the face of this reality, President Bush has proposed cuts to vital health care programs that benefit low-income African American families, including children and seniors.
The Bush budget risks the health of African American children by undermining the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). While the President’s proposal includes what is described as a $19.3 billion increase in funding for CHIP, the increase is insufficient to allow states to cover the millions of uninsured children who are eligible for, but not currently enrolled in, the program. It is also unclear whether this amount would allow states to maintain their current coverage. Given that the President vetoed the bipartisan passed CHIP Reauthorization legislation last year — twice — and refuses to adequately fund the program to meet the needs of the nation, serious questions should be asked about his commitment to reducing the growing number of uninsured children, currently at 9.4 million, many of whom are African American (14.6 percent of all African American children are uninsured, compared with 7.6 percent of all White children).
The President proposes nearly $200 billion in cuts over five years to Medicare and Medicaid. These cuts will further exacerbate the African American community’s uninsurance crisis because millions of African American seniors and families depend upon these programs for their health care.
· Medicare. Approximately 44 million senior citizens and people with disabilities (19 percent of whom are African American) depend on Medicare. The President proposes $186 billion in legislative and regulatory cuts over five years — slashing payments to hospitals, nursing homes, hospices, and other health care providers participating in the traditional program. These drastic, across-the-board cuts will likely prompt some health care providers to limit the number of Medicare patients they see, or to drop out of the program altogether. As a result, significant numbers of Medicare participants could lose access to their health care providers.
The budget also proposes to increase the number of Medicare beneficiaries subject to higher premiums in Parts B and D. By preventing the income threshold for the higher premiums from increasing to reflect inflation, more middle-class beneficiaries in the African American community will be affected by the higher premium, and one of the greatest strengths of the Medicare program — its universality — will erode.
· Medicaid. Nearly 43 million low-income people depend on Medicaid for their health care. More than 44 percent of African American children are covered by Medicaid, the most of any racial or ethnic group, and nearly 19 percent of African American, non-elderly adults are covered by Medicaid (or another public program). Despite the reliance of so many Americans on the health care provided by the program, the President is calling for a cut of $18.5 billion to the Medicaid over five years, shifting costs instead to already budget-strained states. Worse, these new cuts are proposed on top of $13.9 billion in cuts to the federal Medicaid program already proposed over the past year. While Democrats are committed fighting these cuts, they underscore the President’s lacking commitment to reducing the shameful the numbers of uninsured and underinsured Americans.
The Bush budget does little to address the health care crisis taking place amongst underinsured African Americans. Despite the fact that one in every six Americans under the age of 65 are uninsured and an additional 16 million have health coverage that does not adequately protect them from catastrophic health care expenses, the President’s budget proposal would jeopardize existing employer-based coverage and push people into the individual insurance market where insurers can discriminate based on pre-existing conditions and drop coverage when people get sick. By capping the tax deduction for health insurance, and driving healthier individuals out of comprehensive health insurance plans into health savings accounts (HSAs), the President’s plan will raise costs for millions of Americans.
The President also proposes funding reductions for substance abuse and mental health programs. Substance abuse is a significant problem for all Americans; approximately nine percent of African Americans aged 12 or older abuse illicit drugs or alcohol each year, slightly less than Whites. Moreover, nearly 15 percent of Americans aged 12 or older have suffered from a major depressive episode in their lifetime — nearly 12 percent of African Americans. Nevertheless, the President’s budget proposes a cut of $209 million for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which supports mental health programs and alcohol and other drug abuse prevention and treatment services throughout the country.
The Bush budget for food and nutrition programs would limit availability and access to federal nutrition programs for low-income African Americans. The budget would eliminate categorical eligibility for food stamp recipients who receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)-funded work support services. The budget also proposes eliminating the Commodity Supplemental Food Program for low-income children and senior citizens, eliminating modest monthly food packages for almost half a million Americans, the vast majority of whom are senior citizens.
The budget once again proposes cuts to health promotion programs. Nearly 65 percent of adults and roughly 16 percent of children in the United States are obese or overweight. Within the African American community, approximately 70 percent are considered overweight and about 40 percent are obese. African Americans also suffer from heart disease at 1.5 times the rate of non-Hispanic Whites. African Americans are also 1.5 times more likely than Whites to be diagnosed with diabetes and 2.2 times as likely to die from diabetes. While investing in preventive health programs is both common sense and good medicine, the President proposes to cut overall funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and again proposes eliminating the Preventive Health Block Grants. The President’s budget would also eliminate the Universal Newborn Screening program, even though the infant mortality rate for African Americans (13.6 percent) is more than twice the rate for Whites (5.7 percent).
The Bush budget provides only a paltry increase for community health centers. The Community Health Centers program includes community health centers, migrant health centers, and health care centers for the homeless. These organizations provide primary health care and social services for low-those without other access to care. Last year, more than 15 million people received care through these health centers, 90 percent of whom have incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. While President Bush has touted community health centers as an integral part of his “plan” to make health care more accessible and affordable, his budget request includes only a one percent increase in funding for the program, funding that is targeted for new centers in high-risk areas. The budget includes nothing for base adjustments to cover inflationary costs to existing health centers.
The Bush Administration’s budget proposal also cuts funding to veteran health care programs. America has a special obligation to support and honor the 24.5 million veterans — 2.4 million of whom are African Americans — who have risked their lives to defend our nation and its interests. The President’s budget, however, inadequately provides for their health care needs.
· For the sixth year in a row, the President’s budget contains legislative proposals that would substantially increase health care fees for veterans. The proposal would nearly double the cost of prescription drug co-payment fees from $8 to $15 per month for “middle income” veterans, whose annual earnings are as low as $28,000 and would levy a new annual enrollment fee on veterans whose family income is above $50,000. The enrollment fees would be calculated on a graduated scale of $250-$750 per year, based on veterans’ family income level. Worse, rather than using the revenues generated from these fee increases — an estimated $2.1 billion over the next five years — to reinvest in VA services, the Administration has proposed to redirect these revenues to the U.S. Treasury. In effect, this transfer of funds appears to be an effort to help balance the overall budget at the expense of our nation’s veterans.
· The budget extends a ban on new “middle-income” veterans enrolling for care. Since the ban on these veterans was enacted in Fiscal Year 2003, the VA estimates that nearly 1.6 million veterans have been turned away from VA hospitals and clinics nationwide, and even more have been deterred from applying for benefits.
· The proposal also underestimates the needs of the new generation of veterans arriving home from Afghanistan and Iraq. The President’s request includes just $216 million more than Fiscal Year 2008 levels to provide for the care of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, a level that is projected to fall significantly short of real demand and could leave the VA without funding to care for the more than 150,000 veterans it failed to include in its budget calculations.
· The budget would cut in half funding for long-term care facilities. The President’s proposal would cut funding for State Home grants by $80 million, to provide a total of just $85 million in funding for Fiscal Year 2009. These grants provide vital funds to states that are building long-term care facilities, which is an area in need of additional investments given the growing demand for such care from veterans.
From pre-school through college, the President’s budget proposal fails to adequately fund critical programs that provide educational opportunities for African American students. Modest increases in discretionary funding for some programs would be offset by cuts in funding for, or the elimination of, other vital education programs. The President’s budget would cut Department of Education discretionary funding by $826 million. Instead of adequately investing in education, the President is once again asking students, parents, and teachers to do more with less.
The Bush budget under-funds No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and Title I. Though the President trumpets NCLB as a way to close the academic achievement gaps impacting African American students, his budget once again fails to provide adequate resources to fund the program, even as states and local school districts struggle to meet the program’s requirements. The President’s budget increases NCLB funding by only $125 million over the 2008 funding level. But adjusted for inflation, this amount is $179 million less than the 2008 level. The budget reflects a $406 million increase for state grants under Title I, the main program serving children from disadvantaged backgrounds, but these new funds are targeted toward new requirements for high schools, rather than helping schools meet the goals that have already been established. Moreover, since the budget cuts funding for career and technical education programs, the Administration gives with one hand and takes away with the other.
The budget shortchanges after-school programs for African American students. 21st Century Learning Centers provide enrichment and a safe and supervised environment for students after the school day ends. Twenty-six percent of those served are African American. The Bush budget, however, slashes funding for this program by nearly $300 million (from $1.08 billion to $800 million), and restructures it as a vaguely-defined after-school and summer “scholarship program.” According to Department of Education estimates, anywhere from 635,000 to 1.1 million students would lose services, resulting in millions of working parents and guardians being denied access to after-school care for their children.
The Bush budget fails to make college more affordable for African American students. In spite of the dramatically rising costs of college, the President’s budget does not address growing concerns about the affordability of a college education. While the President’s budget does contain enough discretionary funds to support a maximum Pell Grant award of $4,800 for the 2009-2010 school year — the level envisioned by Congress last year in the College Cost Reduction and Access Act — the budget deeply cuts other programs, hurting students. For example, the President proposes to eliminate Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (SEOG), and Leveraging Education Assistance Partnerships (LEAP), which help lower-income students afford a college education.
In addition to raising the maximum Pell Grant, the College Cost Reduction and Access Act made student debt more manageable by capping monthly federal student loan payments, and forgiving student loan debt for those who commit to public service. Only a few months after President Bush signed this landmark legislation into law, his budget proposes to limit the benefits it provides to student borrowers. The Bush budget cuts $457 million over five years in interest rate subsidies for individuals in low-paying jobs, and dramatically reduces eligibility for the new loan forgiveness program, costing student borrowers $1.5 billion over five years. Finally, the budget once again recalls capital for the Perkins Loan revolving program, cutting benefits to low-income students by $4.2 billion.
The President rejects bipartisan support for career and technical education. Approximately 17 million students are served through the Perkins career and technical education programs. In 2006, Congress passed and the President signed a bill to reauthorize and strengthen these programs. Despite overwhelming bipartisan support for these programs, the President’s budget proposes to eliminate the entire federal contribution for career and technical education. The Administration argues that the proposed $400 million increase in Title I would somehow offset the loss of federal funding for these programs, but the net result of the President’s budget would be that states would see their funding eliminated to the detriment of students. Many of the impacted students would be African American.
The Bush budget provides inadequate funding for Head Start. Head Start prepares low-income children to enter kindergarten ready to learn by providing child development, education, health, nutrition and other services. Since its creation in 1965, the program has served more than 24 million children, over 900,000 of them in 2006. Nearly 31 percent of these children were African American. Nevertheless, the program only serves about one-half of the children eligible, and fewer than five percent of eligible Early Head Start children. Moreover, the program’s funding has been cut by 11 percent in real terms since 2002. Thus, while the Bush budget proposes an increase of $149 million in funding for Head Start, for a total of $7.03 billion, the program is not funded at the level necessary to meet the need’s of America’s children.
The President would eliminate Even Start. Over 19 percent of all families that participate in Even Start are African American. Even Start is a family-focused program, which offers early childhood education, adult education, parenting education, and interactive literacy activities for parents and children.
The budget would cut programs that promote safe and drug-free schools. Safe and drug-free school programs improve school safety, allowing students to learn. Even as schools struggle to improve security and keep students safe, the President proposes to cut of $194.8 million for safe and drug-free schools state grants, leaving only $100 million for these vital programs.
The Bush budget would terminate other key education programs in which African American students participate. The President proposes to eliminate 48 discretionary education programs, including — in addition to those described above — education technology state grants, educational opportunity grants, arts in education, elementary school counseling, Even Start family literacy programs, Reading Is Fundamental, mentoring, parental information and resource centers, physical education, school leadership grants, and dropout prevention.
The budget would cut funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). The President proposes to cut $85 million, or 26 percent, in funding for HBCUs, which are educational institutions that have historically served African American, as well as other minority, students. The Bush budget also proposes funding the historic Howard University at $4.4 million less than is needed to keep up with inflation.
Housing and Community Development
The ongoing subprime mortgage crisis and resulting credit crunch have left many Americans worried about whether they will be able to keep their home for another year and many more concerned about whether they will be able to buy a home. An estimated two million Americans may lose their home to foreclosure in the next two years, and due to discriminatory and predatory lending practices, a disproportionate number of these Americans are minority and elderly.
In 2005 and 2006, more than 50 percent of all mortgage loans sold to African-Americans were higher-cost subprime loans, even to those with high incomes who would have qualified for a prime mortgage with better terms. Given the impact that foreclosures have on neighborhoods and entire communities, homeowners who are meeting their financial obligations are seeing their home values decline, crime increase, and local business close. Whatismore, given the constraints on private ownership and skyrocketing rent, the country’s need for affordable and public housing options is stronger than it has been in recent memory.
Nevertheless, while President Bush often speaks of his commitment to addressing the nation’s housing crisis, his budget proposal for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) tells a different story. For Fiscal Year 2009, the President has once again proposed deep cuts for critical federal housing programs for Americans and communities in need.
The Bush budget would reduce funding for housing programs that assist African Americans in need. The Bush budget would significantly cut funding for the Housing for the Elderly program, which supports the creation of housing facilities for lower-income elderly Americans aged 62 years and above, and the Housing for Persons with Disabilities program, which provides construction grants, operating subsidies, and housing vouchers for lower-income Americans with disabilities.
The budget would also shortchange the Section 8 program. The Bush budget would woefully under-fund the tenant-based voucher program, cut the Tenant Protection Vouchers by $50 million, and eliminate funding for the non-elderly disabled and Family Unification Program vouchers. Together, these programs ensure that more than two-million lower-income American families have a safe and affordable roof over their heads. Inadequately funding these key programs will result in the loss of housing vouchers for thousands of the neediest families.
Moreover, while the President’s budget would increase funding for the Section 8 project-based rental assistance program, HUD’s recent revelation that it did not request enough funding last year — a $2 billion error — has resulted in the current budget request being inadequate to cover voucher renewals. The project-based program provides rental subsidies to private landlords tied to specific housing units with housing for eligible low-income families.
The budget would cut or eliminate funding for programs that invest in and revitalize distressed communities. The Bush budget would gut funding for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program by $659 million below Fiscal Year 2008 levels. The CDBG program provides eligible areas with annual direct grants that can be used to revitalize neighborhoods, expand affordable housing and economic opportunities, improve community facilities and services, and provide foreclosure avoidance assistance. The Bush budget would provide no funding for Fiscal Year 2009 for the Revitalization of Severely Distressed Public Housing Projects program (HOPE VI), a program that pays for the rehabilitation or replacement of run down public housing projects and is the only significant source of federal money for capital improvements of public housing. The budget would also eliminate funding for the Brownfields Economic Development Initiative, which promotes economic development in abandoned and under-used industrial and commercial facilities where redevelopment is burdened by environmental contamination.
The Bush budget inadequately addresses the nation’s crumbling infrastructure and fails to seize the opportunity to create jobs for Americans. From the highways of California to the bridges of Minnesota to the levees of Louisiana, America is facing an infrastructure crisis. Instead of providing the kind of forward-thinking leadership that rebuilds America, providing countless construction jobs in the process, President Bush’s budget request of $68.2 billion for the Department of Transportation (DOT) and $4.74 billion for the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) fails to adequately address America’s most urgent infrastructure deficiencies and invest in job creation.
Employment and Training Programs
While President Bush often speaks of his commitment to working Americans and their families, his budget proposal for the Department of Labor (DOL) tells a different story. President Bush has once again proposed deep cuts for critical federal labor and employment programs. Overall, the Bush Administration’s Fiscal Year 2009 budget proposes $10.5 billion in discretionary budget authority for DOL, which is a $857 million (or 7.5 percent) decrease from the 2008 level of $11.4 billion. A true sign of misplaced priorities, the budget request includes significant cuts to worker rights and workplace safety programs and would under-fund vital training and employment services. These cuts come at a critical time when the nation is experiencing its weakest rate of economic growth in five years, more than 7.6 million Americans are unemployed (8.3 percent of African Americans, which is twice the national average), and six million more are marginally employed or working part-time for economic reasons.
The Bush budget would cut funding for employment and job training programs that benefit hardworking African Americans. Despite the fact that workers are struggling to support their families in the face of layoffs, competitiveness, wage stagnation, and the increasing cost of living, the President is asking Congress to cut employment and job training programs by $465 million, or 13 percent, from Fiscal Year 2008 levels. These cuts include decreases for the adult employment and training activities grant program, dislocated worker employment and training activities grant program, youth activities grant program, Job Corps and the Community Service Employment Program for Older Americans. In various ways, these programs help states and localities provide extensive job training and placement for workers and students and offer necessary services to employers.
The Bush budget would decrease funding for programs that help unemployed workers find jobs. The President proposes to eliminate $703 million currently available for the Employment Service State grants program. This vital program helps unemployed workers find jobs and provides services to employers, including administering the Work Opportunity and Welfare-to-Work tax credits. These cuts would negatively impact the more than 13 million Americans who depend on this program each year.
The budget would drastically cut funding for programs that help African Americans with disabilities. Despite the fact that at least 50 million disabled Americans experience a more than 70 percent unemployment rate, the Bush budget would cut the Office of Disability Employment Policy, which works to eliminate employment barriers to people with disabilities, by $14.8 million, or 54 percent, from 2008 levels. The Bush budget would also eliminate $14.4 million in funding for the Work Incentive Grant program, which makes grants to help operate one-stop career centers to assist job seekers with disabilities. These one-stop centers provide enhanced career development and labor market information services to many African American workers and employers.
Economic Development and Assistance
The Bush budget eliminates key funding for African American small businesses. The President once again proposes to terminate funding for the microloan and microloan technical assistance programs. While this year’s proposed budget reflects slight increases for the microloan program from $21 million to $25 million, the budget does not adequately fund this program. The Bush budget also eliminates Microloan Technical Assistance, which is essential to help micro-entrepreneurs succeed and repay their loans. Last year, 2,437 small businesses received more than $31 million in microloans nationwide. These loans are essential to African American business owners, who own over 1.2 million firms in the United States. Many of these businesses are small businesses that serve their local community and provide good-paying, stable jobs. Thus, supporting these businesses is not only vital to the success of the African American community, it is vital to the success of our nation.
The Bush budget would leave many low-income African American families vulnerable to high home energy costs. Since President Bush took office, the cost of heating a home with natural gas during the winter has increased by 90 percent (from $465 to $884), the annual electricity costs for an average American home have increased (by 18 percent from $972 to $1,148),and the cost of home heating oil has increased from $1.53 per gallon to approximately $3.30 per gallon today. These skyrocketing costs have left many low-income Americans struggling to cover basic energy costs. Nonetheless, the President proposed only a $2 billion block appropriation for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which is a $400 million cut from what is needed to maintain LIHEAP funding at the Fiscal Year 2008 level (excluding emergencies), adjusted for inflation.
The President’s budget would severely cut AmeriCorps and senior service programs, which represent the best of the American spirit. The AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) provides opportunities for a generation of young Americans to volunteer to address pressing national and community needs. In Fiscal Year 2007, 65 percent of NCCC’s resources went to addressing the needs of the communities devastated by Hurricane Katrina and NCCC, and project sponsors continually rate NCCC volunteers with a high level of satisfaction. Despite the success and the continued need for this volunteer program, the President slashed funding for the NCCC by 57 percent below Fiscal Year 2008 levels.
Moreover, the President’s budget refuses to recognize and utilize the skills of his own, Baby Boomer generation. The President cuts overall funding for National Senior Service Corps (NSSC) by $40 million, a 19 percent cut. This overall cut includes a 37.5 percent cut for the Foster Grandparents program, which connects Americans aged 60 and over with disadvantaged or disabled children. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, this program stepped in to take care of children while their parents handled financial and other matters related to the recovery effort.