When Elected Officials Assault the Poor It Damages Our Nation

The American consumer-driven economy relies on having the largest possible population of consumers. Unfortunately, too many Americans who struggle to meet their basic necessities. The most recent U.S. Census indicates that there are 146.4 million Americans who are either poor or low-income -- some 48 percent of our population.

I believe that the well-being of poor families and the rest of our nation are inextricably linked. That is why I find Congress' all-out assault against the most vulnerable members of our society so troubling. When the working poor are unable to meet their basic needs, they are unable to contribute to growing our economy.

While the war against the poor is being waged on multiple fronts, there are two critical policy areas that should be off limits -- food and health security.

Recently, the U.S. House Agriculture Committee voted to cut the food stamps program, often referred to as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), by almost $21 billion over the next decade. This will eliminate food assistance to nearly two million low-income people that includes children, seniors, and the working poor. This is a direct attack on poor and low income working families.

We should all agree -- jobs are better than the food stamp program. However, the expansion of SNAP is a direct result of our economic recession. Unfortunately for many families across the country, the positive economic signs seen on Wall Street have yet to impact them. Now is not the time to leave these families without the food assistance they need.

Policymakers should be focused on how to encourage and foster job creation and investment to enable dignity and opportunity for the most vulnerable Americans. When our workers are productive and our children succeed in school, our nation greatly benefits.

The impact of food insecurity is real and personal for many Americans, especially in the inner city of large urban and remote rural areas. The unfortunate reality is that African American and Latino households are extremely food insecure compared to white households. The impact of food insecurity translates into heath, social, and economic issues that damages our communities and nation. When we ignore these issues it is at our nation's peril. Likewise, the decision of 23 states to refuse to expand Medicaid to the poor is a further assault on the poor -- leaving over four million people without access to affordable health care.

The other far right attack against the working poor is the extreme push back around the Affordable Care Act (ACA) specifically the need to expand Medicaid to provide access to care for the working poor. Regrettably, states' decisions whether to expand Medicaid could affect over 11 million of uninsured adults with income below the poverty level. Hospitals across the country are worried about lower reimbursements without the expanded pool of insured patients. This refusal to expand Medicaid will be very costly to millions of people and a financial burden directly to the states.

The governors and state legislatures in the twenty-three states who refuse to expand Medicaid not only hurt the poor but also hurt their own state's finances - the same finances they claim to be protecting. In these states there will be more uncompensated care. Who will pay for this?

In my home state of North Carolina, Governor Pat McCrory and the Republican-led General Assembly have opposed the Affordable Care Act at every turn. Surprisingly, the NC Hospital Association has asserted that some rural hospitals may be forced to close their doors as a result of the state's decision to put politics above sound policy. The fact is the highest numbers of uninsured patients reside in the South, with the highest states being Louisiana and Texas. Both states remain defiant on finding a solution. In several states, Republican Governors have started to acknowledge their intention to expand Medicaid and end this ban on progress.

For both the Farm Bill and the Medicaid expansion effort, hopefully our elected representatives will do what is best for our national economy. Our nation's moral values say that we care about all our people, including the poor. When we fail to live up to these standards, we damage the very credibility from which we best project our leadership around the world. Let's not embrace an attitude that will ultimately make us morally bankrupt, but strive to help the least of these among us.

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