Why are blacks always the biggest targets of budget cuts?

This past Monday President Obama unveiled his FY 2012 budget submission. In his proposed $3.7 trillion spending plan the president seeks to trim or eliminate 200 federal programs, pledging $1.1 trillion in deficit savings over the next decade. The proposed reductions, which average just over $100 billion each year, will disproportionately impact already cash-strapped social programs.

Understanding that the president’s submission is the first salvo in a long budget battle many are asking why start with such steep cuts to much needed social programs. Why start the negotiation process with programs that represent such a small fraction of the federal budget and will disproportionately impact African-Americans?

These proposed cuts come less than two months after the president signed tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans into law, increasing the deficit by $858 billion dollars. According to David Bradley, director of the National Community Action Foundation, “Once the Obama administration throws a poverty program in the water, it starts a feeding frenzy…the White House has thrown chum into the waters swirling around the budget-cut debate” setting the stage for Republicans to propose even deeper cuts to the same programs.

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A few examples of the programs that are on the chopping block:

1. The president proposes to cut roughly 50 percent or $2.5 billion from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. The National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association director Mark Wolfe said the administration’s proposal would cut off 3.5 million households.

2. $405 million from community service block grants and $300 million of Community Development Block Grant dollars.

3. According to the Huffington Post, The Food Research and Action Center estimated that a family of four will receive $59 less per month starting in November 2013 as a result of the $2.2-billion budget cut in the food-stamp program.

4. The president is planning on slashing billions in education over the next decade saving the government over $60 billion in next decade — interest on graduate school loans will begin building up while students are still in school under Obama’s new plan. Currently, interest does not begin compiling until after students graduate.

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) and Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus released a statement that says in part, “Rebuilding our economy on the backs of the most vulnerable Americans is something that I simply can not accept. For example, the President’s recommendations to slash Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding that ensures economic growth in our communities is troubling. Moreover, the recommendations to consolidate programs in the Department of Education that overwhelmingly support the educational development of our children, and to freeze salaries of federal workers who in many instances-in communities of color-are disproportionately the primary bread winners in their homes is equally problematic.”
Why are African-American interests such an easy target for budget cuts? One reason is a failure to develop what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called permanent units of political power. King once said “the civil rights movement will have to engage in the task of organizing people into permanent groups to protect their own interests and produce change in their behalf.”

Also, there are not enough African-American lobbyists on Capitol Hill calling attention to the fact that African-Americans can not be asked to share equally in budget cuts to social programs when they entered this recession as Dr. Ronald Walters wrote, “suffering from double the rate of unemployment, triple the rate of incarceration, nearly double the lack of home ownership, and serious gaps with whites in almost every category of life.” Even within the administration itself, the White House Office on Urban Policy has not been at the forefront of advocating for substantive policies to help address the issues effecting urban America.

In an attempt to run a race neutral administration based upon a deracialized political strategy the Obama administration has failed to pay significant attention or provide targeted assistance to the African-American community. The rising tide won’t lift all boats equally if some boats as indicated above are not seaworthy.

After more than 30 years of former President Ronald Regan’s conservative ideologues impacting domestic policy, the country is experiencing what Dr. Walters called the “politics of resentment” or what Dr. King called “white backlash…the surfacing of old prejudices, hostilities and ambivalences that have always been there.”

Socrates introduced the concept of “social worth”. In today’s context, one can determine the values of a society based upon the manner in which it allocates its limited resources. In the “guns versus butter” model, America continues to value its investment in defense over the real needs of its civil society making it easy for African-American interests in social programs to become easy targets for budget cuts.

Dr. Wilmer Leon is the Producer/ Host of the nationally broadcast call-in talk radio program “Inside the Issues with Wilmer Leon,” and a Teaching Associate in the Department of Political Science at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Go to www.wilmerleon.com or email: wjl3us@yahoo.com. www.twitter.com/drwleon

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