Republicans have made it clear that their next budget goal is to slash so-called entitlement programs. Democrats have failed to explain to the public that the misnamed programs are valuable and prevent millions of Americans, many of them elderly or children, from living in poverty.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) issued a report last week that found: “Social Security benefits play a vital role in reducing poverty. Without Social Security, 22.2 million more Americans would be poor, according to the latest available Census data (for 2012). Although most of those whom Social Security keeps out of poverty are elderly, nearly a third are under age 65, including one million children. Depending on their design, reductions in Social Security benefits could significantly increase poverty, particularly among the elderly.”
The report explained: “Almost 90% of people aged 65 and older receive some of their family income from Social Security. Without Social Security benefits, 44.4% of elderly Americans would have incomes below the official poverty line, all else being equal; with Social Security benefits, only 9.1% do. These benefits lift 15.3 million elderly Americans (including 9.0 million women) above the poverty line.”
Medicare has proven equally as effective. Yet Republicans like to pretend that the U.S. is quickly moving toward an entitlement society.
However, CBPP issued a report last year titled, “Contrary to ‘Entitlement Society’ Rhetoric, Over Nine-Tenths of Entitlement Benefits Go to Elderly, Disabled, or Working Households.”
It stated: “More than 90% of the benefit dollars that entitlement and other mandatory programs spend go to assist people who are elderly, seriously disabled, or members of working households—not to able-bodied, working-age Americans who choose not to work. This figure has changed little in the past few years.
“The claim behind these critiques is clear: federal spending on entitlements and other mandatory programs through which individuals receive benefits is promoting laziness, creating a dependent class of Americans who are losing the desire to work and would rather collect government benefits than find a job.
“Such beliefs are starkly at odds with the basic facts regarding social programs, the analysis finds. Federal budget and Census data show that, in 2010, 91% of the benefit dollars from entitlement and other mandatory programs went to the elderly (people 65 and over), the seriously disabled, and members of working households. People who are neither elderly nor disabled (and do not live in a working household) received only nine percent of the benefits.
“Moreover, the vast bulk of that nine percent goes for medical care, unemployment insurance benefits (which individuals must have a significant work history to receive), Social Security survivor benefits for the children and spouses of deceased workers, and Social Security benefits for retirees between ages 62 and 64. Seven out of the nine percentage points go for one of these four purposes.”
The research also shatters another myth, the idea that entitlement programs shift resources for the middle class to the poor.
“The data show that the middle class receives approximately its proportionate share of benefits: in 2010, the middle 60% of the population received 58% of the entitlement benefits. The top 20% of the population received 10% of the benefits; the bottom 20% received 32% of the benefits. “
Even with a sluggish economy, Congress seems unwilling to support those on food stamps, now called SNAP—Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Under the 2009 Recovery Act, recipients received a 13.6% temporary boost in benefits. However, that provision is set to expire on Nov. 1, resulting in an $80 a month loss for a family of four. That means SNAP benefits will average less than $1.40 per person per meal in fiscal 2014.
Instead of continuing to help those in dire need, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) introduced legislation in September cutting SNAP by at least $39 billion over the next decade.
To his credit, President Obama has suggested a more balanced approach, with cuts being matched by closing some of the loopholes for the wealthy.
According to the Tax Policy Center, the top fifth of the population receives 66% of tax-expenditure benefits, the middle 60% of the population receives a little more than 31% of tax-expenditure benefits, the bottom fifth receives just 2.8% of tax-expenditure benefits and the top one percent of the population receives 23.9% of tax-expenditure benefits. And the report pointed out, “That’s more than eight times as much as the bottom fifth of the population, and nearly as much as the middle 60% of the population.”
It’s time for President Obama and Democratic leaders to show that they can stand up to Teapublicans more than once.
(George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his website, <www.georgecurry. com>.