After the all-nighter the Senate pulled to pass a hastily scribbled upon and amended tax plan, there is no longer any doubt about who will reap the benefits: corporations and the richest Americans. They will get massive tax cuts. But who will end up paying for it? Low-income families who are struggling the most to make ends meet, including millions of kids who will later face an additional $1 trillion or more in the national debt over the next 10 years along with more immediate problems.
Here is what we can expect: Once these tax cuts take effect and the deficit skyrockets as the Congressional Budget Office predicts, some lawmakers will demand cuts to federal programs that help millions of Americans put food on the table, get affordable health care and make ends meet.
How can we predict this future?
Because we’ve seen the same pattern all year, from the many heath care bills to both the House and Senate budget resolutions. All have jeopardized critical anti-poverty programs — whether through direct funding cuts, harmful structural changes, or, in this case, giving tax breaks to the wealthy and threatening future funding for anti-poverty programs. These examples are all from 2017, but the fact is that these programs have been targeted one way or another for years.
Time and again, Capitol Hill has considered hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts to Medicaid, SNAP (what we used to call food stamps), and other programs that allow low-income Americans to get by. Fortunately, public outcry caused many of those threats to be stopped. But if Congress enacts tax breaks for the wealthy that blow a hole in the deficit, many of those programs will be at risk once again.
These programs impact real people in Missouri. Like my friend, Bernadette O’Neill, who once relied on Medicaid as a young, single mother who had to leave her two jobs. She couldn’t cover her bills and needed help with medical care to raise her toddler before she could eventually get back on her feet. Also affected are 6th grade students that Sarah Miller sees in her public school classes in Clayton who attend school hungry and distracted, but rely on SNAP to ensure some minimum nutrition to get through the day. There are kids sitting in every school from Kansas City to Cape Girardeau who need SNAP to learn at their highest potential.
Here’s a fact getting lost in all the rhetoric: Federal anti-poverty programs actually work. SNAP alone lifted 3.6 million people above the poverty line in 2016, while Medicaid currently provides health care for one in five Americans, including low-income children, pregnant women, adults, seniors, and people with disabilities.
Programs like SNAP play a key role in our economy because recipients use their benefits at local businesses. Children in households that receive SNAP do better in school and earn more as adults. Medicaid makes people healthier in the long term, and ensures families don’t have to fear that one trip to the emergency room will result in a lifetime of devastating debt.
Make no mistake: If made law, this tax plan will ask struggling families to subsidize tax cuts for the wealthy. On a practical level, this means that instead of being able to buy groceries and get affordable medical care for their kids, low-income families could face a situation where they simply don’t have enough food and can’t see a doctor. This is an unacceptable trade-off.
I applaud Sen. Claire McCaskill for fighting against this plan and am saddened that Sen. Roy Blunt voted for it. As it moves back to committee and another vote, I hope we see public outcry again to convince Reps. William Lacy Clay, Ann Wagner and Blaine Luetkemeyer to reject this plan on the basis of the harm it will bring to middle- and low-income Americans and the crushing increase to the federal deficit that it will bring. Tax policy can be a powerful mechanism for creating economic opportunity and security for all. Sadly, this plan doesn’t do that. Instead, it prioritizes the super-rich and leaves working families and kids behind.
Cynthia Changyit Levin is a co-leader of the RESULTS Greater St. Louis and Southern Illinois Group.