Dear members of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction,
I write to you to ask that you protect those programs that millions of vulnerable New York City residents and Americans rely on for their very survival.
United Way of New York City works with community-based organizations, government, businesses, foundations, communities and individuals throughout the five boroughs to tackle some of the most intractable health and human service issues facing New York City. With this in mind, we feel especially qualified to share with you our deep concerns.
We understand the difficulty of the task before the Select Committee and Congress. Our hope is that the Committee will come together in support of a plan that sets a trajectory for a secure future for our nation. We urge the Select Committee to support a balanced approach that avoids the sequestration "trigger," protects the interests of the most vulnerable Americans, and puts our country on firm footing towards being a strong competitive nation in the 21st Century.
With this in mind, I want to highlight for you areas of particular concern to United Way of New York City and most importantly, the children and families we serve.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program (SNAP) enables low income individuals to purchase food through an efficient electronic benefit system. During the economic downturn, this program not only prevented hunger, but also infused large amounts of capital into local economies, making it one of the most effective supports the government could provide. According to the USDA, for every SNAP dollar spent there is a $1.79 return to local economies that is infused within 30 days.
UWNYC recently conducted a city-wide poll and engaged in numerous community conversations with food pantry and soup kitchen providers, clients and New York residents. We found that 67 percent of New Yorkers are concerned that someone they know will need help getting and paying for food in the coming twelve months. Fully, half (50 percent) of New Yorkers consider hunger a "major problem" facing the city and more than three-quarters (78 percent) think the federal government has a responsibility to step in even amid a recession. In short, "two out of three people in this city believe someone they know will need help getting food."
The results are startling and clear; supporting SNAP and other vital hunger programs should be paramount in the Select Committee's deliberation.
UWNYC plays an active role in the education arena for at-risk children, providing vital supports for students, particularly during transitional years including bridging the gap between early education and elementary school and enabling students to graduate high school prepared for entry into college or the work force. These investments are the cornerstones of our nation's future and will determine how America functions domestically and where we stand in the competitive global economy.
The Congressional Budget Office has estimated a 7.8 percent across-the-board cut in national education funding in FY13, if the "trigger" is enacted. The National Education Association estimates this would result in a cut of $3.54 billion to education that would include a reduction of $1.1 billion to Title I that would impact almost 1.5 million students, a reduction of $896 million to IDEA that would affect more than half a million students, and a reduction of $590 million to Head Start that would harm more than 75,000 young children.
Without a doubt, these cuts will trickle down to localities, be devastating to education in NYC and undoubtedly prevent our country from being equipped with the best and brightest minds to compete in a 21st century economy. Research shows that family and community engagement in education leads to better student achievement. In particular, it is a key component of raising the achievement of low-income and ethnic minority students.
United Way of New York City urges the committee to support refundable tax credits for low-income working families, specifically the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit. Both of these important credits have been crucial during the economic downturn by keeping millions of families out of poverty and promoting financial stability. The EITC lifted an estimated 6.6 million people, including 3.3 million children, out of poverty across the country in 2009.
A majority of EITC beneficiaries receive the benefit for less than three years and recipients pay back far more in taxes than they ever receive in benefits. Additionally, every $1 in refundable tax credits generates $1.26 in economic growth in local economies.
The Emergency Food and Shelter Program (EFSP) has become increasingly important during the economic crisis. EFSP funds are used to provide time-limited support including served meals or groceries, lodging in a mass shelter or hotel, and one month's rent, mortgage, or utility payment in a given year.
More individuals are visiting food pantries and social service agencies than ever before, and as the face of hunger and poverty has changed, an increasing number of those accessing these services are middle class families who have nowhere else to turn. Tragically, the EFSP was reduced by 40% in FY2010- an $80 million reduction, which occurred just when the program was most needed.
As you deliberate and prioritize recommendations, we strongly urge you to adopt an approach that protects the most vulnerable as you put the country on a course towards fiscal stability. The burden of deficit reduction cannot be borne solely by the poor who have been pushed to the brink and are in a position where they cannot sacrifice anymore.
Gordon J. Campbell
President & CEO
United Way of New York City
Follow Gordon Campbell on Twitter: www.twitter.com/gordonnyc