President needs to help struggling middle class

The media are reporting that the national student loan debt exceeds the national credit card debt, causing President Obama to unveil a plan aimed at reducing the student loan debt. His plan allows borrowers to consolidate their government loans and government-backed private loans into one monthly payment, at a lower interest rate. His plan will also give borrowers the right to cap their loan payments at 10 percent of their income, and will allow student debt to be forgiven after 20 years. Student loan debt cannot be reduced by filing bankruptcy.

Who are the borrowers who have accumulated this debt? Are they from the upper class, who can readily afford college tuition, room and board? Are they from the lower class, whose economic hardships qualify them for grants to cover their education? Common sense would dictate that the majority are from the middle class, who do not qualify for economic hardship nor are wealthy enough to finance their entire educational costs.

Data shows the average student debt is $25,000 after four years of higher education, which is a significant debt for a person entering the work force. Good-paying jobs are scarce during the current downturn in the country's economy, forcing many of these borrowers to carry their debt over a longer period. Thus, one could conclude that the demise of the middle class will not be through some type of income redistribution but from the weight of increasing debt over time.

The nation has experienced a housing problem that severely affected the middle class. Is a similar problem involving student loans on the horizon? The question remains whether the president's plan will help the middle class without exacerbating its other economic problems.

William A. Christen



City of Good Neighbors lives up to its moniker

We recently attended the National Preservation Conference in Buffalo. We participated in the Candlelight Tour, which turned out to be a windy and rainy night. At the end of the tour, we realized we had lost our bearings and could not find our way back to the location of our return bus. We were offered a ride back to our hotel by a couple from Williamsville. This kind gesture was greatly appreciated and reinforced that Buffalo really is the City of Good Neighbors.

Marcia Gann

Laurie Oltramari



GOP must relinquish tax cuts for the wealthy

Shock and awe is over. The long, torturous, trillion-dollar war to rid Saddam Hussein of nonexistent weapons of mass destruction is coming to an end. President Obama is bringing the troops home. Mission accomplished. And as an encore, Obama has just helped in ridding the world of yet another evil dictator, Moammar Gadhafi. Other foreign policy successes of the Obama administration include a new nuclear non-proliferation treaty with Russia, the killing of Somali pirates in a daring hostage-rescue operation on the high seas and making the world a safer place by killing Osama bin Laden and several of his top lieutenants.

However, with success comes new challenges. The problem with all the troops who will be returning home by year's end is that we don't have any jobs for them. The reason for this lack of jobs is the do-nothing, obstructionist Republicans in Congress. They not only refuse to enact Obama's jobs program, they won't even bring it to the floor for debate.

So, what's going to happen to all those brave soldiers when they can't find jobs? Do you suppose they might join the ranks of the 99 percenters and protest in the streets? If so, are the Republicans going to label them as crybabies, losers and leeches, the way they do the present protesters? If I were a Republican, I'd forget about this obsession with preserving tax cuts for the wealthiest 1 percent and I'd join with Obama in showing our appreciation to the troops by providing them with jobs when they return home. The way I see it, the Republican leadership has two choices: jobs for our returning troops, or continued tax cuts for the wealthiest 1 percent.

Steve Szpakowski



NFTA could save money by abolishing police force

If the NFTA is running a $15 million deficit, why not get rid of yet another example of Western New York's propensity toward duplication of services, namely, the private police force that I rarely see doing anything useful? These officers seem to just drive around in their cars, making traffic stops. How is this related to public transit? Move the competent officers to the Buffalo Police Department, and get rid of the rest. I imagine the savings would be several million.

NFTA officers don't ride on buses full of high school kids who could use some supervision, they rarely check for tickets and they rarely ride trains, except around the Utica Station near their home base. Every St. Patrick's Day, the trains are full of rowdy drunks who reek of beer, but I have never seen an NFTA cop on one.

I'm sure the Buffalo police could watch over the bus station, and the extremely large Cheektowaga Police Department is around the airport, along with all the annoying TSA agents and federal marshals. Don't raise NFTA fares. I'm already avoiding many rides because of the cost. On the other hand, I'm getting in better shape by walking a lot while the NFTA police drive around ceaselessly.

Alex Park



Many non-profit groups need block grant funding

As the founder of a non-profit organization trying to raise funds, it is very frustrating to continually read in the newspaper about for-profit businesses, developers and even people of questionable virtue receiving financial breaks and assistance from local, state or federal government agencies.

Twice, Harvest House has applied for Buffalo block grant funds and twice was denied. The latest reason was because "we do not help the poor." I guess providing free primary care, dental care, vision exams, eyeglasses and chiropractic care to 3,000 uninsured patients each year doesn't count. Adding in the more than 5,500 children to whom Harvest House provides free clothing and baby items each year is still not enough.

Even if someone is of the mind-set that we should not be giving handouts to "those people," the funds we are trying to raise are to expand our already successful adult education center. Harvest House is trying to help the citizens of Buffalo help themselves by providing academic classes and job training.

Thank goodness that private supporters and local foundations realize the importance of this project and have helped Harvest House raise more than 50 percent of the funds needed. Perhaps government agencies need to reassess how they distribute funds before giving away what precious little monies are available.

Linda Tatu

President, Harvest House