My View: Who speaks for the poor? |

My View: Who speaks for the poor?

Felicia Muftic
Courtesy Photo |

When Rep. Paul Ryan first proposed weakening the social safety net in a budget proposal in 2012 ,the Catholic Bishops called it “immoral.” That was even before Pope Francis reset priorities of the Catholic Church to care about the poor. Ryan’s newest budget passed by the House this month (and DOA in the Senate), reduces food stamps by $125 billion and restricts access of the near poor to health care by repealing Obamacare and reducing Medicaid. If his first proposal was immoral, the 2014 version is beyond immoral. Who is speaking for the poor these days?,

Not The GOP, many of whom oppose even raising the minimum wage, so low now even full-time workers live in poverty. Not Republicans who support laws making it harder for the poor without affordable and easy access to drivers’ licenses and birth certificates or convenient voting hours to raise their voices .Not the GOP House members including the GOP Colorado Representatives who voted for Ryan budget this month, that would have cut food stamps while cutting taxes for the rich.

Growing up in Oklahoma in the 1950s, I heard many rationalize opposing government assistance by blaming the poor themselves, opining African Americans were lazy or undeserving. Racist attitudes coloring opposition to welfare still linger into recent times per a study of many public opinion polls reviewed by Arizona State University.

President Johnson’s War on Poverty and civil rights legislation were the reaction to the injustice and fueled by the long hot summer riots of the late 1960s. America learned that the poor could get attention even if they did not have a political voice. But there were also abuses as some gamed the new welfare system.

Reality check: Welfare reform in the 1990s put more to work. Those left receiving food stamps now, per the U.S. Department of Agriculture, are mostly kids (47 percent are under age 18) and elderly (8 percent). Three-quarters of food stamp recipients are families with children.

The charity community is doing what they can, but sometimes the food bank cupboard is bare. Hunger plagues one out of five kids who do not know where the next meal is coming from, and government through school lunch programs and food stamps make up part of the difference.

Many of the states with the largest number of poor have state houses dominated by the GOP yet whose budgets are the most dependent on federal money for social programs. They have the greatest need and the least will to provide. Leaving states to use their own resources with federal block grants masking diminished federal contributions to Medicaid, as Ryan’s budget does, would further divide this country between the haves and have nots.

Even the Democratic Party has focused priorities on issues supporting the middle class.

The voice of the poor was further overwhelmed by recent Supreme Court decisions that gave corporations the same right as individuals to contribute political campaigns, and a recent decision (McCutcheon vs. FEC) that made it much easier for the wealthy to spread their influence around.

So who is left as the strongest voice for the poor? Some in the faith community and Pope Francis, and God bless them.

Sources tapped for column at

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