It’s that special time of year: Christmas. If you’re a member of Congress, you might look forward to a sumptuous dinner, possibly accented by champagne. Others aren’t so fortunate, and have to rely on the generosity of others as the social safety net continues to shrink.
The disconnect is almost understandable. This year’s incoming congressional class posted a net worth more than $1 million above that of the typical American household. Not all members are part of the wealthy elite, but many are.
And rather than working to ease the plight of the poor, Congress left for its Christmas recess with plenty of unfinished business. And why not head out of town? The members who celebrate Christmas can look forward to lots of presents and turkey with all the fixings.
If you happen to be poor, though, your Christmas won’t be so bright, and Congress seems determined to keep it that way.
If you depend upon food stamps (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), then you already sustained a cut – maybe $9 a week for a family of four – to your benefits last month. And now Congress is debating how much more to slash the program. The House proposed a $40 billion cut over 10 years; the Senate would cut $4.5 billion.
Of course, one might argue that folks just need to get a job. But the economic recovery is achingly slow at providing jobs at the modest end of the income scale.
And if you’re one of the unlucky 1.3 million people receiving long-term unemployment benefits, you’re nervously counting down the last few days until Saturday, when the end of an emergency program means the end of your benefits.
That ripple will affect 100,700 people in New York State, including 4,970 in Erie County and 1,270 in Niagara County, along with an additional 2,050 people in the other six counties in Western New York. Another 800,000 unemployed nationwide will lose their benefits in the first few months of 2014.
Whether to cut food stamps and unemployment benefits is not just an academic discussion. People who are already hurting because of the recession will be dealing with new body blows unless Congress acts.
Fortunately, public generosity is brightening the holidays for many people. The News Neediest Fund – part of the Western New York Holiday Partnership – provides gifts and food for thousands. And the effort doesn’t end today. If you’ve had a particularly merry Christmas, consider paying it forward. Contributions to the Neediest Fund are always appreciated. Cash donations may be mailed to: The News Neediest Fund, P.O. Box 2667, Buffalo, N.Y. 14240-9873, or donate at BuffaloNews.com/NewsNeediest.
It’s never too late to give, something those in Congress should remember this holiday season.