By Daniella Gibbs Leger
WASHINGTON, D.C. (April 4, 2014) — Is a budget document a manifestation of your beliefs and values?
If so, then communities of color definitely had good reason to be dismayed this week as Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) readied his fiscal year 2015 budget. Once again, the chairman of the House Budget Committee has produced a document that lacks a balanced approach to address the economic challenges we face.
For the past three years, Rep. Ryan’s budget rightly has been met with a good dose of skepticism. Yet some advocates thought that perhaps this year would be different. Rep. Ryan had been talking for months about the need for Republicans to address issues, such as poverty, facing communities of color.
But it was not to be. The reality of Rep. Ryan’s beliefs and values came to light a few weeks ago, when he and the House Republicans released their review of the War on Poverty; it foreshadowed what was to come in his FY 2015 budget. As in years past, Rep. Ryan’s budget shortchanges middle- and working-class Americans while gutting crucial programs in favor of tax breaks for Big Oil and big corporations. While millionaires would reap benefits to the tune of $200,000 in tax cuts, on average, communities of color would once again suffer greatly under Rep. Ryan’s plan.
This week saw the news that more than 7 million people have signed up for health care through state and federal health care exchanges. Yet Rep. Ryan’s budget continues the House Republican pattern of trying to dismantle the Affordable Care Act by repealing Medicaid expansion, a program that greatly benefits low-income communities and many communities of color. If Rep. Ryan has his way, three out of four of those adversely affected could be people of color.
Also as in years past, Rep. Ryan’s budget takes a hammer to Medicare, ending the program as we know it and turning it into a voucher program. The Center for American Progress outlined his new plan earlier this week: While Rep. Ryan uses a different formula than in past budgets to set the value of the voucher, it would still make traditional Medicare increasingly unaffordable for senior citizens. Higher out-of-pocket premiums for traditional Medicare would force seniors into private plans, where they may not have access to the doctors they want to see.
The effects of this could be devastating for communities of color. In 2011, 23 percent of seniors of color relied on Medicare as their only source of health care coverage.
Access to higher education
Low-income families looking to send their kids to college are also under attack in Rep. Ryan’s latest budget, as his plan restricts Pell Grants. More than 60 percent of African American undergraduates and half of Hispanic undergraduates rely on Pell Grants to attend school. The plan also cuts back on Pay As You Earn, an income-based repayment program that helps students pay off their loans in accordance with their salaries.
Support for working families
In all, Rep. Ryan’s budget cuts $5.1 trillion in spending, with much of those cuts coming from health care. But he also takes aim at some of his other favorite targets, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC. Despite the fact that SNAP just underwent draconian cuts earlier this year, Rep. Ryan’s budget cuts it further, by $125 billion over 10 years, literally taking food out of the mouths of those who need it the most. During the economic downturn, the number of people of color who relied on SNAP increased, but the program also helped keep people out of poverty. The Ryan budget slashes $10.5 billion from WIC, which provides nutrition assistance for expectant mothers and their babies. This cut would be detrimental to people of color, who make up nearly 40 percent of the recipients of WIC assistance.
While the economy has been gradually improving over the past year, communities of color are still slow to recover. Unemployment remains high: As of February, the black unemployment rate was 12 percent, and 8.1 percent of Hispanics were unemployed compared to 5.8 percent of whites. Now is not the time to cut back on programs that are helping these families get by.
Rep. Ryan’s latest budget, like his past three, is just a continuation of the same trickle-down economic policies that have stymied growth over the past few years and gutted the social safety net. If he is truly serious about advancing policies that will help all Americans, including low-income families and communities of color, he should scrap this one and start over.
Daniella Gibbs Léger is the Senior Vice President for American Values and New Communities at the Center for American Progress.