In the weeks leading up to his assassination, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made economic justice the central focus of his advocacy. Dr. King saw economic inequality as a fundamental flaw in our society that needed to be addressed both by words and deeds.
Dr. King saw clearly what others could not or would not recognize. Inequality, he told us, threatened the well-being of the nation. He challenged our conscience to extend a hand to those in need, thereby making our nation stronger.
Nearly five decades later Dr. King’s words never rang truer in the face of President Donald Trump’s mean-spirited budget proposal, which calls for unconscionable cuts to anti-poverty programs that downsize services for the poor, lumped together with an enormous tax cut for the rich. “This country has socialism for the rich, rugged individualism for the poor,” King said in a speech just weeks before his death that accurately describes the key theme of the Trump budget.
Trump telegraphed his intentions. We all knew this was coming. The question is what can we do about it?
One thing is for sure, we must avoid the danger of adopting the attitude: “Trump’s spending blueprint is dead on arrival.” Let’s not kid ourselves about the intentions of the GOP. They have sought this type of austerity for years. That the cuts hurt Trump’s supporters as much as people who didn’t vote for him is immaterial. Make no mistake: The fiscal 2018 budget negotiated by Trump and the Republican Congress will be horrific no matter what form it takes in the final appropriations bill.
This is not the time for business as usual. Our New York Congressional delegation, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio and every member of the New York City Council must view Trump’s budget as a call to arms. Our elected officials and non-profit advocates must assume an aggressive posture, be willing to take risks, protest and rally supporters, speak out in the news media, and tie up government if necessary. Now is the time to burn political capital. Everyone involved must address the crisis forcefully both by words and deeds.
City and state government must immediately take steps to adjust their budget priorities in ways that will ameliorate the disaster poised to befall the poor and working poor. For instance, the mayor’s plan for the 2018 fiscal year calls for preserving $1 billion in budget reserves, which both the City Comptroller and the Independent Budget Office have estimated was not enough leeway if hard times arrive. Well, hard times are knocking. The mayor has said that the city re-evaluates its budget every few months and can quickly respond if funding cuts materialize.
We’re anxious to see how the mayor and City Council react because the impact of Trump’s proposed cuts on New York City would be nothing short of a nightmare. President Trump has proposed slashing $910 million in federal aid for everything from housing subsidies and homeless services to police anti-terror funding to community block grants, which are used by many New York City agencies to fund basic services. Also, the Republican House Affordable Care Act bill pending in the Senate would leave 23 million Americans without health insurance, devastating New York City Health + Hospitals.
The Community Service Society is doing its part by fighting for funding to maintain the New York City Housing Authority, the affordable housing source of last resort for poor families; advocating for half-price MetroCards for people living at or below the poverty line; and authoring studies that shine light on policies that can improve the plight of the working poor. We advocate for these things despite sometimes tense relations with Mayor de Blasio and Gov. Cuomo.
This White House has bragged about cutting children’s health insurance, money for cancer and Alzheimer’s research, disability insurance, farm aid, Meals on Wheels, food stamps and taking the earned income and child tax credits away from undocumented immigrants working in the United States, many of whom pay taxes or have American born-children.
If that were not enough, the coup de grace is demolishing Medicaid, which covers more than 70 million low-income children, adults, senior citizens and disabled Americans. So far the White House has been unclear if the $610 billion in proposed Medicaid budget cuts would be in addition to the $839 billion Medicaid reduction outlined in the House repeal bill, for a total eye-popping $1.4 trillion in Medicaid cuts over 10 years.
In the spirit of Martin Luther King’s advocacy in his final days, progressives of all stripes must answer the call to action to support the poor and working class because, in truth, Republicans are better at this game of takeaway. The GOP’s perfectly happy that Trump proposed the unthinkable so Republicans can feign disbelief and appear to swoop in to save the day. It provides them the cover to advance austerity for the masses and lucrative tax cuts for the rich they covet. The battle lines are drawn.
David R. Jones, Esq., is President and CEO of the Community Service Society of New York (CSS), the leading voice on behalf of low-income New Yorkers for more than 170 years, and a member of the MTA Board. The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer. The Urban Agenda is available on CSS’s website: www.cssny.org.