In the race to win the Republican presidential nomination and capture a sizable portion of the Latino vote, Mitt Romney's campaign is hoping to shift the emphasis from his extreme anti-immigration rhetoric to his economic plans to make the argument that when it comes to Latinos' economic well-being, Romney is their man. But a closer analysis of his plans shows that the policies he embraces are out of step with the interests of the Latino community and in fact would hurt more than help.
Gov. Romney is right that the economy is the most important issue for Latino voters. A new national survey released by Pew Hispanic Center last week showed that a majority of Latinos (54 percent) believe that the economic downturn has been harder on them than any other group. According to the study, 59 percent of Hispanics report that they or someone in their household has been out of work in the past year, 75 percent say that their personal finances are in "only fair" or "poor" shape, and 28 percent of Latino homeowners say that they are underwater on their mortgages.
So what are Gov. Romney's plans to fix these problems?
First of all, he supports Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-WI) plans that would cut Medicaid spending by $700 billion over 10 years, reduce food stamps by $127 billion, and cut in half the funding of Pell Grants. Gov. Romney's own budget plans seek to impose a cap on overall annual federal spending at 20 percent of the nation's GDP, which would necessarily slash vital programs for the poor and middle class such as Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, and Pell Grants. He also signed the Cut, Cap and Balance pledge promoted by a number of conservative and Tea Party groups.
His proposal to fund Medicaid through block grants to the states would result in deep cuts to a program that is at the crux of Latinos' access to health care. In fact, according to the National Council of La Raza, in 2009, Medicaid and its sister program, the Children's Health Insurance Program, covered more than one in four Latinos and nearly half (49.8 percent) of all Hispanics under age 18--representing 8.5 million children.
Social Security and Medicare are also of particular importance to Hispanics: Over three-fourths of senior citizens rely on Social Security for their income, and overall, Medicare serves approximately 3.5 million Hispanics. Gov. Romney's plan to raise the retirement age for eligibility for Social Security would have a negative impact on Latinos because it would amount to an additional 13 percent across-the-board benefit cut. This would be especially unfair to low-income workers who are more likely to have significant health problems, and work in physically demanding jobs. It would also affect the elderly, who have a much harder time finding new work after being laid off.
Gov. Romney has also indicated that he would repeal the Affordable Care Act, which would insure 9 million Hispanics that currently lack health insurance, a position supported by only 29 percent of Latinos.
Finally, while Hispanics routinely cite education as a key issue and strongly support our public schools and access to college, Gov. Romney's pledge to cut the budget would require cutting funds for Pell Grants--a program that benefits 12.1 percent of Latino undergraduate students.
Yet, while Gov. Romney's seeks to cut these opportunity programs that are helping many stay afloat or help access higher education, he offers $2.24 trillion in tax cuts to the top 1 percent of earners. No wonder leading economists have stated that these plans fail to address the main problems with the economy, and would actually create deficits in the long run.
Unlike what Gov. Romney and others in the GOP argue, programs like Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, are part of a limited number of entitlements set up by the federal government to provide basic needs for those that need it the most at a time when many Americans, Latinos included, have lost their economic foothold and are working hard to regain it.
Yes, the economy and real economic solutions are important for Latinos, but just like on immigration, Gov. Romney has embraced the wrong approach. As the primary season runs its course, Latino voters will learn even more about these proposals. Based on what we know so far, Romney will have a very hard time making his case to them.
Vanessa Cárdenas is Director of Progress 2050 at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.