CHICAGO — “Bush offered nothing in his State of the Union talk that will make a damned bit of difference in my life,” declared Sarah Smith, a mother of two who works for minimum wage as a cashier at the Halsted Foods supermarket in this city’s Bridgeport neighborhood. “Any rebate I would get has to go to pay medical bills I owe on my credit card. That might stimulate the bank but it won’t do a thing for my kids and me.
“There is so much to be done,” Smith said. “The schools in this neighborhood need renovation, they need repair, we need new schools altogether — wouldn’t that create jobs? I need a wage increase, millions of people need higher wages — wouldn’t that stimulate the economy? Why does it always have to be the rich getting tax breaks when they talk about fixing the economy?”
As she ran a customer’s food stamp card through the machine on her register, she said, “Give these people benefits big enough so they can put some real food on their table. I’m tired of having to tell them they don’t have enough to pay for their food. Hungry folks deserve to eat and food prices are going through the ceiling in here and in all the stores.”
Marge Cantanello, a senior citzen waiting to pay for her purchases at Smith’s register, said, “I worked all my life as did my husband before me, and now all I have is Social Security and Medicaid. There is absolutely nothing in that Bush plan that will help senior citizens. What are we — something to be tossed aside?
“We would spend money if we had it,” Cantanello said. “They tell us there is no money. You wanna find the money? Bring home all those boys and girls from Iraq. They will be safe and then we’ll have I don’t know how many billions to fix things here and help senior citizens.”
The stimulus package Bush called for in his State of the Union speech gives one-time tax rebate checks of $300 to $1,200 for most taxpayers, with those who earned less getting the smaller checks.
It also gives tax breaks to many businesses.
Bush demanded that Congress pass this plan with no add-ons.
AFSCME President Gerald McEntee called the package a “Band-aid, half-hearted solution to the economic crisis.” AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said Bush was “blind to Americans’ day-to-day economic realities.” Change to Win Chair Anna Burger said “the best thing about Bush’s address was that it was the last such speech.”
The House approved the president’s plan with very few changes. So the struggle shifts to the Senate, where pressure can be applied for extending unemployment benefits, increased food stamp benefits and aid to senior citizens before the planned mid-February vote.
Despite threats from Bush that he will veto the package if the Senate acts to strengthen it, senators have already indicated they will add a 13-week unemployment benefits extension.
Some senators voiced support for longer-range solutions to the economic crisis put forward by labor — for example, increased spending on infrastructure projects.
“I think that there are 51 Democratic senators without exception who believe this package can be made better,” Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid said.
Reid blasted the proposal to send rebates to those with higher incomes, saying it “causes me to want to gag.”
Workers understand it will take more than rebates to stimulate the economy.
In Chicago, Mike Gerard, a bus driver on the #6 CTA route, commented, “I’m lucky I’m still working. If the state had gone through with the cuts they were planning on Jan. 20, I’d be out in the streets and there would be a lot less busses.”
Gerard said, “A decent plan to fix the economy has to help state and local governments. I’m no fan of the CTA, City Hall or the state, but on this issue they have a point. The local governments are running out of money. They can’t afford what they have to pay now and Bush wants them to pay a bigger share of Medicaid and everything else. They need quick help. That’s what his plan should be talking about.”
Calling it “outrageous” that three times now over the last year the workers and the riders have been subjected to scare campaigns from the CTA about impending service and job cuts, Gerard said, “Put the money in public transit. That’s the kind of thing that will help fix the economy.”