Friday, July 29, 2011

LIHEAP: Left in the Cold

Do you have an elderly relative who lives on a fixed income? Do you know families with young children who are struggling to get through the cold winter months? Have you or someone close to you recently lost a job? For many Americans, the answer is yes. In the current state of the economy, and as the price of fuel rises, it is becoming increasingly difficult to afford home heating fuel. Next heating season, heating fuel prices are projected to rise, putting even more households at risk. There is one more thing putting our elderly grandparents, young children and struggling families at risk: the FY2012 LIHEAP budget. The proposed budget is calling for a 50% reduction in funding for LIHEAP; a reduction of this magnitude would have immediate and devastating effects.

In 2010, over 7.5 million low income households in the US would not have been able to make it through the winter if it were not for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). The mission of LIHEAP is to assist low income households, particularly those with the lowest incomes that pay the highest proportion of household income for home energy, primarily in meeting their immediate home energy needs. High heating bills can force people to lower the temperatures in their homes in order to save money. However, indoor temperatures can be lowered to unsafe levels, which can result in hypothermia (cold stress or low body temperatures). When that fuel runs out, assistance may be the only help. This is only part of the health and safety impact of LIHEAP.

The Heating System Repair and Replacement Program (HEARTWAP) is also funded through LIHEAP. The use of makeshift heating sources such as unvented or improperly vented portable heaters, barbecue grills or gas stoves, is not only a fire hazard which can result in fire deaths, but can also create the risk of asphyxiation (carbon monoxide poisoning). HEARTWAP emergency replacements help those with heating systems that fail in the winter, ensuring people are not left out in the cold. It also helps reduce the cost of heating by replacing inefficient heating systems with high efficiency systems, and keeps people safe by replacing unsafe systems, ensuring people are not exposed to high CO levels and the dangers of hazardous fuel leaking into basements or seeping into the ground.

LIHEAP funding includes more than just heating cost assistance; it has a positive impact on the economy. Heating technicians, plumbers and oil and gas vendors are able to service clients who would otherwise not be receiving service. Employing these vendors is keeping more people at work.

Fuel assistance (LIHEAP) and the energy conservation program HEARTWAP help those who are most vulnerable survive through the extreme winter months. They serve the elderly, handicapped, children and families, and employ local businesses. The proposed cut to LIHEAP will leave many out in the cold. It is time to let your representatives know that these programs must be saved. For more information on how you can reach you representatives, click here.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Bring Back Responsible Government

"Policymakers are risking a default on U.S. federal obligations because of a dispute over how to reduce budget deficits. The nation's long-term fiscal path is unsustainable, and policymakers should address it in a timely and responsible way. But policymakers should not hold the debt limit hostage to approval of deficit reduction measures that satisfy various idealogical or political concerns. Policymakers cannot let the government default." Separating the Debt Limit from the Deficit Problem, Kathy Ruffing and Chad Stone, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, July 21, 2011

The deadline for reaching an agreement around raising the federal debt ceiling is rapidly approaching. Leadership in the U.S. Congress and White House have met daily, but with a lot of grandstanding, have failed to reach a conclusion. Now is not the time for our national elected officials to act irresponsibly!

As is well demonstrated by the state budget showdown in Minnesota between a Democratic Governor and a Republican State Legislature, the lack of a budget meant a prioritization of payments for services. Social service programs, such as CSBG, LIHEAP, and Head Start, would not receive their funding. Why do programs that assist the economically disadvantaged, including children, elders, and people with disabilities, always take the first hit?

If the debt ceiling is not raised, the federal government will not be able to pay its bills. This will mean a down grade in the government’s overall credit rating and produce an increase in interest rates. If this happens, everyone will suffer with higher payments on mortgages and loans. The economy will slow down even further and even more people will lose their jobs and homes.

Now is not the time to play politics with an economy that is in desparate straits. We need to bring back responsible government! And responsible government means responsible economic policy which includes the responsibility to care for our neighbors in need.

We need to ask our elected officials to make some difficult decisions and soon. Those must include taking care of our most vulnerable citizens and ensuring that more people go back to work. These populations should not pay the price for the inaction of a federal government not meeting its financial obligations.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Increasing Poverty is Conterproductive to Reducing Deficit

America is facing one of the greatest economic challenges in its proud history. Today, the federal government is more than $14 trillion in debt, one in seven Americans are in poverty, including one in four children under five. Unemployment over the last two years has remained around 9%, with 14 million people currently out of work, and economic experts project that the rate will remain high for years to come unless Washington stops playing political games with the economy.

There is bipartisan agreement in Washington that spending cuts and an increase in revenue will reduce the deficit and lead to economic growth. Sadly, our nation’s leaders seem to be confused about where these cuts ought to be made. In the final budget approved for last year, cuts were made to effective job-creating investment programs like CSBG that are essential for economic growth. What’s worse for Americans is that Washington is dead-set on adding further cuts to CSBG in next year’s budget. All Americans will feel the depressing financial consequences of these cuts as cutting effective CSBG programs will lead to rising unemployment rates and more Americans living in poverty.

As cited in the July 8, 2011 letter from leaders of prominent national religious, civil rights, charitable, economic research, and low-income advocacy organizations to the leadership in Congress and the White House, the major bipartisan deficit reduction packages over the past twenty five years have followed the proven principle that deficit reduction should be achieved in a way that does not increase poverty because increased poverty depresses the economy. In its report from December 2010, the bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility stated. "We must ensure that our nation has a robust, affordable, fair, and sustainable safety net. Benefits should be focused on those who need them the most." The 1985 and 1987 Gramm-Rudman-Hollings laws, the 1990 Budget Enforcement Act, the 1993 deficit reduction package, and the 1997 Balanced Budget Act all exempted core low-income programs from automatic spending cuts.

In addition, the 1990, 1993, and 1997 deficit reduction packages, which improved the Earned Income Tax Credit, strengthened the SNAP program, and created the Children's Health Insurance Program, show that expanding effective low-income assistance programs, such as the Community Service Block Grant (CSBG), is consistent with overall deficit reduction and the most effective path towards sustainable economic growth for America. The benefits are spent right away for household economic needs, such as rent, food, and utilities. As cited in the New York Times article of July 10, 2011, “Economy Faces a Jolt as Benefits Checks Run Out,” Wayne Vroman, an economist at the Urban Institute, estimated in a study for the U.S. Labor Department that every $1 paid in jobless benefits generated as much as $2 in the economy. It’s time for us to let Washington know that CSBGs are effective programs that create jobs, stimulate economic growth, and reduce the deficit. It's time for us to contact the White House and Congress and demand that they commit to protecting the American economy. We need to urge our national leaders to act responsibly!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Thank you! But Our Work Continues...

On Thursday April 14, 2010, the U.S. Senate joined the House of Representatives in voting to keep the Federal government funded until September 30, 2011. Thanks to all your efforts, the Community Service Block Grant (CSBG), the central source of funding for Community Action across the country, was reduced from $700 million to $680 million in the Fiscal Year 2011 Federal Budget, which could have been worse given that Congress was seeking to eliminate the program. While Community Action overcame its first budget hurdle with minimal cuts, there will be many more to come.

THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT’S DEBT CEILING

On August 2, 2011, the U.S. Government will reach its debt ceiling, which is the limit set by Congress on the amount of money it can borrow. Secretary of the Treasury, Timothy Geithner, has been able to stretch the period through administrative means, but he has informed Congress that, if they do not raise the current debt ceiling by that date, the United States will no longer be able to pay its bills.

Currently, President Obama and Vice President Obama are convening negotiations between the Republican and Democratic leadership in the U.S. Senate and Congress in order to reach a compromise to extend the debt ceiling. They are discussing even more severe cuts in Federal funded, domestic programs, including CSBG, as part of an agreement in order to increase the debt limit. The two sides find themselves at an impasse over the president’s insistence that tax increases as well as spending cuts be included in an agreement.

THE 2012 FEDERAL BUDGET BATTLES

In addition, the Administration and House Republicans are still proposing devastating budget cuts and dramatic changes to Community Action for Fiscal Year 2012 (FY12) beginning on October 1, 2012. In July, Congressional Budget Committees will recommend at what funding amount domestic programs will look like in FY12. The cuts, if allowed, will dismantle the Community Action network that millions of citizens rely on. Organizations nationwide will be hit hard if these changes go through. More importantly, critical services for economically disadvantaged families will be lost.

WHY SAVE COMMUNITY ACTION?

CSBG is the ONLY federal program focused on comprehensive services to helping Americans achieve economic security.

Cutting CSBG and pursuing uncertain reforms to the program will undermine the nation’s future. Working Americans need jobs that contribute to the nation’s overall economic growth. The way to respond to the need for jobs is to invest in employment training programs as well as job creation and placement. That is exactly what CSBG does so well.

In addition, CSBG enables all the other antipoverty programs, including Head Start, the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) Program, and the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Nutrition Program, to have more of an impact in moving individuals out of poverty.

YOU CAN HELP MAKE A DIFFERENCE!

For these reasons, one has to ask why we are putting such a valuable program in danger. All of us need to let our elected officials know that Community Action is important. $680 million for CSBG is a small percentage of the overall $11 trillion Federal Budget and yet has helped 20.7 million low-income individuals, created and retained over 18,400 jobs, and assisted in accessing $14.9 billion in total funding.

You can call or email the President and your representatives in Congress. Tell them how Community Action has made a difference in your life. And encourage others to do the same!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Community Action WORKS! - Blog

We are pleased to announce the Community Action WORKS! blog.  Please check back for updates.