Proposed federal budget cuts threaten to defund programs that help children and families meet basic needs or recover after a difficult life event. On Friday, April 21, Sen. Bob Casey joined advocates and community members at Calvary United Methodist Church in Philadelphia to discuss how these cuts could impact millions of Pennsylvanians.
Casey said, “What some extreme members of Congress want to do is cut basic programs in ways we have never seen before, so wealthy Americans get more of a tax break.” He pointed out that the Trump administration’s proposed repeal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was “a big tax cut bill” that would have offered $7 million in tax breaks to each of the 400 wealthiest Americans. “Members of Congress have pretty secure lives. They have health insurance!” Casey exclaimed, before pointing out that people in poor rural and urban areas, like Philadelphia, will be the ones to suffer from cuts.
Currently, poorer states rely on federal funding for Medicaid, which the GOP is pushing to turn into a block grant. “Block granting” means turning Medicaid over to individual states and capping federal spending on the program. These funding cuts could impact the health care benefits of over 2 million Pennsylvanians who rely on Medicaid, 43 percent of whom are children.
Adrianna Gutner, who was diagnosed with multiple scleroses as a new college graduate, said she was only able to receive Medicaid thanks to Governor Tom Wolf’s Medicaid expansion plan. Now she fears she’ll lose the assistance that has allowed her to afford medications that slow the progress of her disease, some of which cost over $5,000 per month. “Everything I’ve planned for my life has slid to the side, but I don’t want to give up,” she said.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is another potentially life-saving program for individuals with disabilities. SSI can also help children with special needs whose parents lack the resources to care for them. Yavona Bustamente-Arroyo, a mother of three, said SSI helped her provide for John, her son with special needs. At the time John was born, she was a single mom doing everything on her own. “Raising a child with disabilities is expensive,” she said. “Without SSI, I would not have been able to pay the medical bills.”
Tiana Gaines-Turner, a member of the research and advocacy project Witnesses to Hunger, reminded the audience to keep in mind that many of the beneficiaries of social programs are children whose basic needs would otherwise go unmet. She said she relies on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to help provide for her three children, who were born with intellectual disabilities. (Sixty percent of Pennsylvanians who benefit from SNAP food stamps are children and seniors.) Even with this assistance, Gaines-Turner struggles to make ends meet. “It’s not because I can’t budget my food stamps, or that I’m not intelligent enough to shop,” she said. “It’s because it’s simply not enough.”
Gaines-Turner also advocates for other parents who sometimes face the difficult decision of either paying for health care or feeding their children. She noted that in some cases benefits were cut off if a parent made just 5 cents over the income limit. Parents were then forced to decide whether to cut their work hours in order to continue receiving health care benefits for their at-risk kids.
“I don’t think Congress knows what’s it’s like to stand in line at the pharmacy or at the supermarket, only to be told your benefits have been cut off,” Gaines-Turner said. “[If these programs are cut even further] it will be like an avalanche we have to duck every day.”
Cheryl Hill, also a mother of three, was forced to rely on the kindness of strangers after she was suddenly evicted from her home. Reeling from the recent deaths of both her oldest son and her fiancé, Hill had nowhere to turn. People’s Emergency Center (PEC) helped her to find temporary shelter and eventually transition into stable housing. PEC primarily helps homeless women and children to improve their circumstances through a range of services like housing, early childhood education, employment support, and teaching life skills. Hill said she took cooking and parenting classes, and PEC worked with her child who has special needs. “Housing programs are a chance for us mothers to rebuild,” she said. “[PEC offers] so many opportunities for us to feel like we are worth something.”
With the proposed federal budget cuts, Philadelphia faces a loss of over $100 million in funding for Housing and Urban Development (HUD). These cuts could hurt programs that rely on HUD dollars, like PEC.
Sen. Casey said, “If all we do is yell and scream, we aren’t going to win. The only way to stop these cuts, these extreme proposals, is if we continue to hear your stories.”
A lot of stories were heard on Friday. It’s up to concerned Pennsylvanians to fight for programs that have proven to help families and communities find happier endings.