No Cliff, Yet Danger Remains and the Stakes are High

By Eric Rodriguez, Vice President, Office of Research, Advocacy, and Legislation, NCLR

Two weeks ago, Congress steer us away from the so-called fiscal cliff and many of us thought we were out of danger, yet the threat is greater than ever.  The agreement, which prevented tax hikes on working families, raised taxes on the affluent, and extended unemployment insurance, was a good deal for hardworking, taxpaying Latinos, but lawmakers disagreed on spending cuts and fell well short of the $3.7 trillion needed to stabilize the debt.  Congress and the President now have two months to work out a deal or face automatic cuts in sensitive areas of the budget that will affect both parties—and millions of Americans.

Experts predict that by March the government will run out of cash to pay its bills.  Since we need congressional approval to borrow money, negotiators need to work fast.

The Latino vote flexed its muscle in the presidential election and Congress now has more Latino representatives than ever.  However, Republican leaders in the House of Representatives pledge to withhold support for lifting the debt ceiling unless all of the savings come from spending cuts to programs, including Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security—programs that many Latinos depend on to survive.  On the other hand, the White House seeks a split between increased tax revenue and cuts to spending.

Once the fiscal cliff was “avoided,” many Hispanic leaders and voters may have understandably turned their attention toward immigration reform, another urgent national priority, but it may be perilous to look past the fiscal debate.  Negotiators should know that Latinos haven’t left the table and our economic, educational, and health interests are not bargaining chips.  A good deal would balance taxes and spending, including through investments that generate economic growth and create jobs.  This will improve Latinos’ financial outlook by maintaining economic ladders that move families out of poverty and into the middle class.  A good deal would do no harm and protect the vulnerable among us.  Hispanic leaders and voters should expect to be heard in this debate, and we must do all we can to ensure that negotiators continue to hear us.

Learn more about NCLR’s position on the federal budget.

Let’s Give Our Children a More Certain Future This Holiday Season

By Janet Murguía, President and CEO of NCLR, and Bruce Lesley, President of First Focus

The New Year usually symbolizes an opportunity for new beginnings and growth, but American households face a very different reality in 2013. On January 2, the fiscal cliff will leave many families with $2,000 less to put food on the table, or even a roof over their children’s heads, unless Congress comes to a budget agreement this month.

The fiscal cliff’s automatic, across-the-board budget cuts come at a time when children and their families are already struggling. Kids are facing the highest levels of poverty since the Great Depression, and Latino children are faring the worst: about 1-in-3 Hispanic kids live in poverty today. If sequestration goes into effect, federal funding for kids will be cut by an additional $6.4 billion in Fiscal Year 2013.

Children represent the largest constituency of Americans who would be impacted by the fiscal cliff at 30 percent of the U.S. population. And Latino children now make up nearly 1-in-4 children under the age of 18, and are critically important to our nation’s future. An analysis from NCLR (National Council of La Raza) highlights what sequestration means for our kids:

  • 96,000 children will not be served by Head Start, including 34,000 Latino kids
  • 80,000 children will not receive the Child Care Development Block Grant, including 16,000 Hispanic children
  • 1.8 million low-income public school students will not receive extra reading and math help because of cuts to Title I. The 37 percent of Latino kids who attend high-poverty schools could be affected by these cuts.

We saw from the recent presidential election that Latinos, as a voting bloc, highly favor greater investment in all our children. At 10 percent of the electorate and over 12 million voters, the historic turnout of Hispanic voters is a critical factor in urging politicians to take action for kids. A nationwide election eve poll released by Lake Research Partners on behalf of First Focus Campaign for Children (FFCC) shows overwhelming support from Latino voters for a wide range of federal investments in America’s children at levels higher than voters of all demographics and political affiliations.

The damage sequestration would mean to kids is simply unacceptable to Hispanic voters and the public at-large that broadly supports raising revenue and oppose budget cuts that impact kids. Latino children are one of the fastest growing segments of kids in school. Cutting programs that contribute to their development and ensure they are prepared to meet the requisites of a future labor market would not only hurt their personal future success but undercut the strength and competitiveness of the nation’s economy. This is not lost on Hispanic voters who consistently list education and children’s issues at the top of their priority list.

In another poll conducted by Public Opinion Strategies on behalf of FFCC, the majority of American voters disapprove of Congress making budget cuts to an array of children’s programs, including: education (75-24%), the Children’s Health Insurance Program (74-17%), Medicaid (73-27%), child abuse and neglect (66-33%), the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit (63-34%), student loans and financial aid for college students (59-40%), Head Start (59-40%), and child care (54-44%).

Despite the popularity of investing in America’s next generation, discretionary spending on children has declined by about $2 billion since 2010. Children have borne a disproportionate share of the spending reduction to combat the federal deficit. In fact, the share of federal spending going to kids fell six percent in the past year.

The budget and impending sequestration clearly do not align with our children’s needs, and what voters want. Kids and their families deserve better. Let’s hold our lawmakers accountable. Contact your representative and tell them to keep kids off the table.

As Fiscal Cliff Draws Nearer, There Is No Time For a Plan B

By Janis Bowdler, Director, Wealth-Building Policy Project

This New Year’s, many Americans across the country will have quite a bit weighing on their minds at a time when they are supposed to be clinking champagne glasses and making their resolutions for 2013.  In less than two weeks, our country will go over the fiscal cliff, resulting in a tax hike for millions of Americans and severe funding cuts to education, health care, and housing programs, to name a few.  That is unless Congress and the Obama administration can reach a deal on the federal budget.

For a brief moment earlier this week, it appeared that both sides were willing to compromise.

But that glimmer of hope was fleeting, and it seems negotiations are at a standstill.  Republican leadership is now pushing “Plan B,” which the House will vote on tonight at 6:00 p.m.

Simply put, “Plan B” is bad for Hispanic families.  It fails to meet NCLR’s principles for a fairer federal budget.  The plan further reduces tax liability for those at the top while pushing working families toward poverty.

The wealthiest would be the big winners should this plan pass.  Under “Plan B,” millionaires would get an estimated $50,000 tax cut, while 25 million middle class families making less than $250,000 a year would see their income taxes increase by an average of $1,000 apiece.  And,millions would lose access to the Child Tax Credit, as well as the Earned Income Tax Credit, which are valuable tools that help prevent many Latinos from falling below the poverty line.

All of this while also allowing the sequester to move forward, gutting critical investments in education, jobs, and housing.  For example, in many poor districts, where federal funding covers a substantial portion of their budgets, for every $1 million that a school district receives in federal funding, sequestration will take away $82,000.  For districts with disproportionately large Hispanic and Black populations, that loss could have devastating effects.

“Plan B” is not a viable option for Latinos or this country.  Thankfully, President Obama has already issued a veto threat.  However, that does not mean both sides should stop trying to reach an agreement.  We strongly urge House Speaker Boehner and President Obama to put America’s working and middle-class families ahead of politics.  We need a fair approach to deficit reduction where everyone pays their share.

We must end this stalemate.  Far too much is at stake for the American people.  Nobody wins if we go over the fiscal cliff, and the clock is almost up.

We’re a Unified Voice for Communities

By Jesus Altamirano, Regional Field Coordinator, Colorado

Not much can keep our Affiliates down when they band together.

Our Colorado Affiliates know this well. Recently, NCLR Affiliates El Comite de Longmont, Scholar-to-Leader Academy, GOAL Academy, and Mi Casa Resource Center, descended on Denver to speak to U.S. Senators Mark Udall (D) and Michael Bennet (D) about the impact of the impending debt crisis, the so called “fiscal cliff.” Like NCLR, our Colorado Affiliates are concerned about the effects extreme cuts would mean to the millions of American Latino families who rely on vital social services and they expressed just that to their senators.

Kudos to our Colorado Affiliates for being champions for communities! Check out some photos of their advocacy below and then tell us what the impending fiscal cliff crisis could mean to you.

Colorado advocates in their meeting Colorado advocates outside the meeting Colorado advocates in their meeting

Fiscal Cliff Will Add to Texas Education Budget Woes

By José Ibarra,Texas Field Organizer and Capacity-Building Strategist, NCLR

For Texas, a state that experienced a $27 billion shortfall during the last legislative session and cut $5.4 billion from the state education budget, going over the fiscal cliff will add yet another problem to an already contentious issue.  Of the education funds slashed in 2011, $1.4 billion was cut from grants and discretionary spending that largely impacted full-day pre-k, parent engagement, bilingual, after-school, credit recovery, and dropout prevention programs—all of which are largely attended by students from disadvantaged backgrounds, including many Latinos.

Should lawmakers in Washington, DC fail to resolve the fiscal cliff, the Texas budget will fall short by more than $1 billion.  Over half that amount will come out of an already taxed education budget in a state where 62% of the student population is composed of racial or ethnic minorities.

A further cut of slightly more than $1 billion could translate into further job and program losses, including the firing of 1,400 teaching and educational support jobs.  This would come on top of 25,000 layoffs for teachers and support staff in 2011 and 2012, despite an increase of approximately 332,000 students in the last four years.  Most of the service cuts will come from Title I grants and special needs programs, which already operate on limited funds and affect underprivileged students.

The bottom line is that Texas cannot afford additional financial strains, especially with regard to the education budget that already saw drastic cuts in 2011 and prompted six lawsuits in state courts surrounding school finance.  It is our obligation to urge federal lawmakers to resolve the fiscal cliff and prevent further cuts to the programs and services that affect the well-being of our children, our state, our economy, and our country.

Housing on the Precipice

By Jose Garcia, Policy Fellow, Wealth-Building Policy Project, NCLR

Home for GoodAs 2013 approaches, the clock most people are watching is not in Times Square but in Washington, DC, where the countdown to the fiscal cliff has begun.  Lawmakers face a self-imposed deadline of December 31 to figure out how to deal with tax hikes and spending cuts.  If an agreement is not reached, the Congressional Budget Office projects that it could cost the U.S. two million jobs next year.  This drastic job loss could hamper the housing recovery, and the timing could not be worse.

The U.S. is still reeling from a recession that drained more than $17 trillion in wealth from American families, disproportionately affecting low- and middle-income families and communities of color.  Hispanic families lost an alarming 66% of their household wealth.  Their ability to save and invest in their families, their communities, and our nation’s economy has been severely limited by high rates of unemployment, stagnant wages, and an increased cost of living.  Yet on the cusp of a new year, the U.S. is trying to balance the budget by putting the confidence of consumers and our few, hard-earned economic inroads at risk.  For Latino families, the fiscal cliff could mean a return to double-digit unemployment, affecting their ability to keep a roof over their heads.

If an agreement is not reached, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will suffer 8.2% in cuts to a number of programs, including $1.5 billion to tenant-based rental assistance and $4 million to its Housing Counseling Program.  For homeowners, fewer jobs could lead to a new wave of foreclosures as newly unemployed workers struggle to make mortgage payments.  Decreases to funding for housing counseling could further erode Latino home equity, as there will be less assistance available to help families save their homes.

Cuts to housing subsidies put at risk the housing of millions of families who rely on these subsidies to make ends meet.  For these renters, this assistance provides a way to cover the cost of basic living expenses and survive economic shocks from unplanned emergencies like car repairs.

The fiscal cliff also threatens to slow the momentum in the housing market, as nervous consumers may be less likely to purchase a new home.  Uncertain about tax hikes or job losses, prospective buyers may hold off on purchasing a home until they feel more secure about their economic prospects.  Fewer homebuyers could stall growth of the housing market, and from there the fiscal cliff could lead to an economic slump that may result in greater reliance on economic assistance.

As was evident during the last election, the issues that are important to Latinos can no longer be ignored.  Hispanic voters have rejected a strategy that would focus only on spending cuts.  Instead, Latinos want to see a balanced approach that raises revenue by requiring everyone to pay their fair share of taxes.  Like all Americans who are still recovering from a deep recession, Latinos are most concerned with rebuilding our nation’s economy.  Recent polls show that Latino voters overwhelmingly support strategic investments in education and infrastructure over cutting taxes as the best way to spur economic growth.  The fiscal cliff provides the U.S. with an opportunity to work toward a better future for all by helping our workforce acquire the skills needed in today’s market, and by taking care of the elderly who worked tirelessly to make the U.S. one of the most prosperous nations in the world.  This can all be accomplished while still balancing the budget and avoiding sequestrations.  We need to be smart about the budget challenges that our nation faces.  We cannot afford to put the housing of working families at risk just to keep giving tax breaks to rich individuals and corporations.

We’re Taking Our Concerns about the Fiscal Cliff Straight to the White House!

If you’ve been following us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or our blog, you know that we’ve been doing lots of work on the so-called “fiscal cliff” that has been bandied about in the media over the past few weeks.

At NCLR, we’re especially proud to bring you a message from one person who had a seat at the table where these talks are happening.  This past Friday, Fernando Garavito joined Vice President Joe Biden and others to talk about the impact that the fiscal cliff will have on Latino families.  Fernando, who works for NCLR Affiliate CASA de Maryland, joined the lunch as a representative of the Latino community, along with others who represented people with disabilities, students, African Americans, and more.

Check out Fernando’s short story below and let us know what falling off the fiscal cliff will mean to your family.  Share your own story here or in the comments below.

Here are a few other stories we have received from our network:

Nancy: Taxes on the extremely wealthy should be returned to the levels they were during President Clinton’s administration. People making $250,000 or less should have their taxes kept low so that we do not fall back into a recession.

Wayne: The wealthy have had it easy for years not only because they don’t have financial problems like we of the middle class, but because they have a huge surplus of money to meet emergencies unlike we of the middle class. Since they have benefited most by the growing debt, it is only fair that they now “pay their dues”!

Linda: We have a 32 yr old daughter who is bi-polar and will never be able to hold a job. Her husband took her children and dropped her on our doorstep. Because of cuts, in the state she gets no legal help, no financial aid, and no medicaid. That means she is not able to get all the medication she needs and she can’t get a lawyer to fight her husband for it. We are struggling ourselves (my husband is a disabled veteran who is still job hunting 4 months after getting a Master’s in Social Work) and all we can do is give her a place to stay and food to eat. In two months we will have to start paying back student loans even though my husband has not found work. Any cuts will just make it harder.

Pulling the Plug on Job Training Undermines Our Global Competitiveness

By Catherine Singley, Senior Policy Analyst, Economic and Employment Policy Project, NCLR

Plenty of economists have warned about the negative effects that the so-called “fiscal cliff” would have on jobs. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that if Congress fails to act before the New Year, then employment losses will total 1.6 million jobs by the end of 2013 thanks to the expiration of the payroll tax cut, emergency unemployment insurance, and other measures.  Automatic cuts to federal programs, from education to health care to housing, would result in another 1.3 million jobs lost.  With our recovery still in its infancy, the last thing our country can afford is to willfully increase the ranks of the unemployed.  Latinos, who still face an unemployment rate of 10%, are rightfully anxious about how Congress is approaching these weighty decisions on taxes and the federal budget.

The fate of Latino workers is not just a Latino concern—it is an American concern.  According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 30% of the U.S. workforce will be Latino by 2050.  It is in our national interest to ensure that Latinos are able to fully participate in and contribute to our economic prosperity.

Labor force projections from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2018 and 2050
Source: Labor force projections from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2018 and 2050.

Yet the “fiscal cliff” also poses significant threats to Hispanics who are striving to reach their full potential as workers, taxpayers, and consumers.  Beyond the specter of fewer jobs, the automatic spending cuts known as sequestration would also devastate our country’s public workforce development system.  Under the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), federal grants give states the resources to educate and train adults, young people who are no longer in school, and workers transitioning out of dying industries.  The need for intensive adult education and vocational training is especially urgent in Latino communities.  By 2018—when Latinos will represent 18% of the American workforce—only 10% of U.S. jobs will be open to workers with less than a high school degree.  Yet today this is the maximum educational attainment of one-third of the Hispanic workforce.  WIA state grants currently serve 153,917 Latino adults and 38,351 Latino youth (about one-third of all youth served).  Cutting WIA funding would widen the education and skills gap that Latinos already face and threaten America’s future competitiveness in the global economy.

For more information about the stakes for Latinos in the federal budget debate, visit www.nclr.org/federalbudget.

Latinos Say No to Medicaid Cuts

By Jennifer Ng’andu, Director, Health and Civil Rights Policy Project, NCLR

With Congress knee-deep in efforts to reach a deal that will avert the fiscal cliff, decision-makers are eyeing health care as a place to cut overall costs.  That’s fair.  Health care spending is the gargantuan elephant in the room (you know, 17.9% of GDP, which is more than the entire economy of France and most other countries).  But in most of the recent discussions about saving money in health care, budget negotiators are focusing on quick fixes that help reach a magic number of cuts instead of making efficient changes that lower long-term spending, often without regard to how the cuts affect people.  This is a dangerous move that could put vulnerable communities—particularly working Latinos and their families—at risk.  And it could be the undoing of one of the most critical health care programs in America.

Medicaid is a health insurance lifeline for those without any other options for accessing affordable care.  For Latinos, who more often than not are denied offers of health insurance in the workplace, the role of the program is even more substantial.  In 2011, 14.5 million Latinos were covered through the program.  That’s more than one in four (27.6%) in the community.  In the same year, the program served as an even more critical resource for our children.  More than half (51.4%) of Latino children under 18 were on Medicaid or its sister program, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

The very last time Medicaid hit the chopping block, hundreds of Latinos wrote in to NCLR overnight to share how the program was making a difference in their lives every day.  Rigo from California’s testimonial was one that could be shared by many Latino families:

As the parent of two special needs teenage children since birth, and with no medical insurance from my employer, it is extremely important for us to keep our Medicaid insurance intact.  My family, and thousands of other families throughout this nation, cannot afford to lose our Medicaid coverage for our children. Continue reading

Why All Mamis Should Make Their Voices Heard on the Fiscal Cliff

By Liany Elba Arroyo, Associate Director, Education and Children’s Policy Project, NCLR

Mamis, think the fiscal cliff isn’t a big deal?  Think again!

The fiscal cliff is approaching rapidly and negotiations between Congress and the White House appear to be going nowhere.  It seems like falling off the cliff is inevitable.  What isn’t inevitable, however, is the damage that this will cause to the economy, our communities, and our schools.

The fiscal cliff refers to the expiration of Bush-era tax cuts and the start of new budget cuts required by the Budget Control Act of 2011 through a process known as sequestration.  How this will affect the economy has been front-page news, but what is talked about less is what happens to our education system on January 2, when the budget cuts go into effect.  For our most vulnerable children, particularly the more than 17 million Latino children in this country, the stakes are high.

While our education system is funded primarily by local property taxes, federal funds account for 8% of all education spending.  However, poor districts receive additional funding from the federal government that they count on to keep schools open, teachers in the classroom, and assistance available to the neediest students.  For some districts, federal funding covers a substantial portion of their budgets.  For example, a recent analysis found that federal funds make up more than 15% of the school budgets in Los Angeles, Miami, and Philadelphia and more than 20% of the budgets in Chicago and Milwaukee.

What does this all mean?  After the fiscal cliff, for every $1 million that a school district receives in federal funding, sequestration will take away $82,000.  For districts with disproportionately large Latino and Black populations, that loss could have devastating effects.  The programs that stand to lose most are those created to help these children compete.  For example:

  • 1.8 million fewer children will be served by Title I, which helps the poorest students.
  • 145,180 children will lose access to before- or after-school programs.
  • 10,899 fewer educators will be available to support special needs students.
  • 26,949 fewer infants and toddlers will receive early intervention services.

Latino children have so much at stake during this debate.  They are 23% of all public school students.  Thirty-seven percent of all Latino children attend the nation’s poorest schools.  Over one-third of all students served by Title I are Latino.  If we fall off the fiscal cliff, our children will suffer the consequences of our inaction.  As the mamis of our future leaders, we must inform ourselves and act to ensure that Congress and the Obama administration make the right decisions.  Our children are depending on us.