WASHINGTON — Lawmakers stood on the Senate and House floor this week and decried hunger and homelessness spreading like a plague among their constituents as the nation plunges toward economic recession.
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) told his colleagues a food bank in Logan, Ohio, has already run out of food twice this winter as it struggles to serve 2,000 families, up from 17 families just two years ago. Food reserves expected to last until July instead will run out in February, he said. “More and more Ohioans need food assistance but there is less and less food to go around. Standing in line at food banks, working families are teetering on the edge. Families are facing an impossible choice this winter — heat or eat.”
He said the soaring cost of basic items — meat, vegetables and fruit — has sharply reduced food bank donations from grocery stores. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has also cut back sharply on its Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP). Brown urged quick approval of his bill to immediately increase TEFAP funding by $40 million.
Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) said President Bush’s cutbacks in the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) are leaving tens of thousands literally out in the cold this winter. Home heating will cost an average $3,000 this winter, and “closer to $4,000” in the frostbelt, Kennedy said, “yet six out of seven families in need receive no help.”
He demanded that Bush drop his veto threats against increases in LIHEAP and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).
Jeremy Funk, a spokesperson for Americans United for Change, blasted Republican lawmakers who voted again to sustain Bush’s veto of SCHIP, Jan. 23. “Those lawmakers voted to deny needed health care for four million children,” he told the World. “How out of touch can they be?”
SCHIP supporters will rally outside these lawmakers’ district offices in coming months “to remind their constituents how they voted on SCHIP,” Funk concluded.
Bush’s $140 billion economic stimulus program is largely targeted at higher income taxpayers and corporations. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) called for assistance targeted toward the poor.
The nation has just observed Dr. Martin Luther King’s 79th birthday, she said. “It is important to reflect on how far we have strayed from his legacy of eradicating poverty. The sad reality is that economic inequality continues to grow. Thirty-seven million Americans are in poverty. It has grown by five million in the last five or six years.”
MoveOn, the online political action group, has launched a petition to Congress demanding an economic stimulus aimed at low- and middle-income taxpayers. “The president’s plan — tax breaks for corporations and rebate checks for the well-off — isn’t just morally wrong. It’s based on ‘trickle down’ theories and it won’t work,” MoveOn says. Bush’s proposal would provide no tax rebates to those earning less than $40,000 per year. A family of four making less than $24,950 would get nothing.
The petition states, “Congress must quickly pass a stimulus package that helps those who need it most and will spend it the fastest. And it should include public investments that will create jobs and move us toward a 21st century, clean energy economy.”
Some analysts say the economy is replacing Iraq as a top concern of voters. But MoveOn counters that this is the “Iraq recession,” saying the war is driving the economy into the ground, sucking $2 billion each week from the pockets of working people, at a cost of $1 trillion so far.