Katrina casts light on the other poor
(Page 2 of 3)
One obstacle: The cost of hurricane cleanup and reconstruction - already at $62.3 billion - is expected to top $200 billion. That price tag, combined with continued military involvement in Iraq, is ballooning federal deficits.Skip to next paragraph
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"In this budget environment that has both chambers of Congress looking for budget cuts, poverty programs are typically the most vulnerable," says Jason DeParle, author of "American Dream: Three Women, Ten Kids, and a Nation's Drive to End Welfare." "Poverty programs have less of a constituency and less political protection on Capitol Hill."
Even as poverty ranks grow, House Republicans have proposed cuts of $35 billion to $50 billion in food stamps and Medicaid, the health-insurance program for the poor. There is also talk of cutting back on the Earned Income Tax Credit - a key way to supplement wages of the working poor. Senate Republicans are looking at a $35 billion cut, with some $10 billion coming from Medicaid and Medicare.
The poverty discussion also touches on a litany of related issues, including crime, hunger, illegal drugs, and racial discrimination and segregation. One debating point, at least for those who lobby for a more pronounced government effort, is whether the US should adopt Canadian or European models of healthcare, education, and welfare. Those systems are showing signs of increasing financial strain but are associated with lower poverty rates than in the US.
"We have by world standards a relatively small percentage of poor, but in terms of the developed countries we have a high percentage largely because we don't have a system of family and income support anywhere close to any of the European countries," says Steve Mangum, associate dean of Ohio State University's Fisher College of Business. "This is the debate we should be having."
But political inertia, empathy fatigue, media attention spans, and simple human nature - especially in the current budget environment - will probably prevent it, as they did in the past, many analysts say. "I am disappointed that the larger debate is not happening," says Mr. Doherty.
Still, there are optimists aplenty.
"This is a period in which the whole country is taking the poor of New Orleans into their homes, and they are realizing they are human beings just like them, struggling just like them," says Andy Bales of Union Rescue Mission in Los Angeles. "People will learn that if they assist people in finding their hope and dream that it can happen and that their own attitudes and preconceptions about the poor can change."
That may be the case for Ulibarri's Celebration City Church, which many say is matching its nascent awakening to poverty with long-term commitment that doesn't depend heavily on direct government aid.
"Part of the answer for me was just to have somebody see me, support me, and help me break the cycle of poverty in my own mind," says Robby Kimery, a painter hired by Celebration City Church to paint some of its properties. It also intends to create affordable senior housing, job training, and after-school activities for kids.
"We think the poor need to be retrained in their thinking about themselves," says Ulibarri. "For us it's not a matter of throwing money or time or help as a one-time band-aid, but rather of instilling hope person to person, one by one."