Thursday, November 2, 2017


By Lecia Imbery

OCTOBER 27, 2017

Budget resolution passed by Congress would cut trillions from domestic programs over ten years, and would substantially harm anti-poverty efforts

Sustained economic gains and strong federal and state programs have led to welcome progress in the fight against poverty over the last several years.  This is good news.  But actions from Congress and the Trump administration threaten to weaken the very programs that contribute to this progress.

That’s among the findings of Poverty and Progress: Poverty is Down in the U.S., but New Threats Ahead, a new report released today by the Coalition on Human Needs (CHN).

Poverty rates in the U.S. continue to declineCHN Executive Director Deborah Weinstein noted that overall, the number of Americans living in poverty dropped to 12.7 percent in 2016, down from 13.5 percent in 2015 and from 14.8 percent in 2014 – overall, a 2.1 percentage point drop nationally from 2014 to 2016.  She said that is the largest two-year decline since 1969.

“The nation is finally seeing poverty rates return to levels comparable with those before the Great Recession,” she said.  “We are seeing relief for some poor and near-poor families who have been lifted out of poverty by a stronger economy adding jobs and wages, as well as by federal programs and policies that lift them up.”

Nonetheless, Weinstein warns, trouble is looming, given the budget resolution passed by the House on Thursday.  “The budget resolution slashes billions from the very programs that have enabled us to make progress,” she said.  “These cuts would surely cause millions more Americans to suffer in poverty and near poverty.”

Among the report’s findings:

    • African Americans and Latinos made progress in the fight against poverty.  In 2016, 22.0 percent of African Americans and 19.4 percent of Latinos lived in poverty in 2016, down from 24.1 percent and 21.4 percent in 2015, respectively.  The 2016 figures were lower than in 2007, showing the U.S. has made progress in reducing poverty among African Americans and Latinos since the onset of the recession.  But both communities remain disproportionately affected by poverty – the poverty rate among Non-Hispanic whites in the U.S. in 2016 was much lower, at 8.8 percent.

    • The U.S. also made progress in lowering the child poverty rate, which was 18.0 percent in 2016, down from 19.7 percent in 2015 and finally at pre-recession levels.  But as with adults, African American and Latino children experience poverty at much higher rates than their white peers.

    • The U.S. also made some progress in the fight against hunger.  In 2016, 12.3 percent of U.S. households weren’t always able to provide enough food for all family members, down from 14 percent in 2014 and down from a modern-day high of 14.9 percent in 2011.  However, the proportion of Americans struggling with food insecurity is still higher than the pre-recession level of 11.1 percent.

Poverty and Progress: Poverty is Down in the U.S., but New Threats Ahead also reported on the extent to which federal programs – many now on the chopping block in Congress – increase income for millions of Americans, lifting them out of poverty while preventing millions more from falling into poverty to begin with.

Government programs lifted Americans out of poverty in 2016Examples: More than 8.1 million people were lifted out of poverty by low-income refundable tax credits in 2016; 3.1 million fewer people were poor because of housing subsidies and 3.6 million fewer people were poor because of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP/formerly food stamps).  Supplemental Security Income (SSI), federal support for people with very limited resources who are elderly or with disabilities, lifted 3.4 million people out of poverty, and the school lunch program did the same for 1.3 million people.

But Poverty and Progress: Poverty is Down in the U.S., but New Threats Ahead reports that these are the very programs threatened in Congress and by the Trump administration.  “Cutting successful anti-poverty programs like Medicaid, SNAP/food stamps, housing assistance and low-income tax credits would harm individuals and families and would turn back the progress we’ve made in reducing poverty,” Weinstein said.  “In fact, programs that help provide basic living standards play a major – and increasingly important – role in the reduction of poverty that has occurred since the 1960s.”

Overall, the report notes, the Fiscal Year 2018 budget resolution approved by Congress would cut Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and other health programs by $1.3 trillion over a ten-year period.  Medicare would be cut by $473 billion.  Programs in the “income security” category (which includes SNAP/food stamps, Supplemental Security Income for poor seniors and people with disabilities, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, unemployment insurance and low-income tax credits) would drop by $653 billion.  The budget resolution calls for $800 billion in cuts to domestic appropriations, threatening further cuts to housing, education, child care, and substance abuse treatment.

“The budget shows the vision of the Congressional leadership – to gut critical programs for low-income families in order to pay for tax cuts for the rich and corporations,” Weinstein said.  “If our elected leaders really want to boost our economy and create jobs and a highly-skilled labor force, they would invest in programs that lift millions of children out of poverty, not cut them. They would invest in programs that allow parents to find and keep good paying jobs, like training programs, scheduling and paid leave protections, and child care. And they would require the wealthy and big corporations to pay their fair share, so we can increase these investments.”