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.

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.

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.

Congress. Listen to Latinos: Raise Revenue and Reject Cuts to the Poor

By Janis Bowdler, Director, Wealth-Building Policy Project, NCLR

The 2012 presidential election debate centered on how best to jumpstart our economy and spur job creation.  The candidates campaigned on their opposing plans, drawing stark contrasts on fundamental economic issues such as taxes, health care, and the national debt.  Hispanic voters went to the polls in record numbers and with a clear message:  Grow the economy in a way that we all prosper.  In fact, more than half of Hispanic voters said the economy weighed heaviest on their mind as they cast their vote for President.

So we’re pleased to see the President kick off the debate on the so-called fiscal cliff by standing by his campaign pledge to reduce the deficit in a balanced way, including asking the wealthy to pay a little more so we can invest in the next generation.  In an election eve poll Hispanic voters expressed their overwhelming support for this approach.  When asked how we should go about reducing the deficit, 35 percent support raising taxes on the wealthy and 42 percent support a combination of revenue generation and spending cuts—and not on the backs of the poor.  Notably support remains high for revenue plus cuts across party lines.


Click to enlarge
Source: ImpreMedia/Latino Decisions 2012 Latino Election Eve Poll

Latinos have a lot at stake in how Congress opts to fix our budget woes.  Our community stands to be among the most affected by cuts to safety net programs and investments that would grow the economy, such as education and job training.  By 2020, three out of four workers joining the labor force will be Hispanic.  Our economy—and our retirees—will benefit from a productive, educated workforce.  Moreover, our community is younger than others, which means it will be Latino children stuck with debt from overspending today.

As they return to work next Tuesday, Congress would do well to listen to Hispanic voters and raise revenue and reject cuts that would put millions back in poverty.

Don’t Let Congress Push Our Future Off the (Fiscal) Cliff

By Liany Elba Arroyo, Associate Director, Education and Children’s Policy Project Yesterday, NCLR released the Latino Kids Data Explorer, a unique resource that combines information from several sources into one easy-to-use tool. Advocates, policymakers, and even parents can use this database to see how Latino and other children in their state are faring according to 27 different measures of well-being. The data make one thing clear: we have to pursue stronger policies that create opportunities for children and their families. While Latino children have made gains in several areas such as health insurance coverage and preschool attendance, the reality is that Latino children, as well as Black children, lag far behind their White counterparts in almost all measures of child well-being. This should be of great concern to us all given that Latino children, as one of the fastest-growing child populations in the country, will not only make up our future workforce but also pay the taxes that sustain our nation. If our political leaders shortchange this crucial population during the upcoming conversations on the national debt, they will end up pushing our children off a “fiscal cliff” from which they may never recover. Last year, policymakers in Washington agreed on a deal to extend tax cuts until December 31, 2012. They also scheduled massive budget cuts to take place concurrently. On January 1, 2013, Americans will be hit with cuts to vital programs in education, health, housing, and job training, as well as a tax hike, unless Congress takes action. This “fiscal cliff” would cause serious harm to families and could slow down or even reverse economic growth, potentially increasing unemployment while simultaneously gutting programs intended to help struggling families. Hispanics must pay close attention to how Congress addresses this issue because the wrong approach can cause long-term damage to our community.

Latino children, and all poor children, will face a double hit if Congress makes draconian cuts to the programs that so many of them depend on to survive. The first hit comes in the form of decreased access to our nation’s safety net and the education they need to become productive members of society. Our nation runs the risk of backtracking on the progress that Latinos have made over the last decade in graduating from high school, obtaining health insurance, and attending preschool. The number of Latino children living with mothers who have less than a high school education or live in poverty will likely rise.

The second hit—cuts to entitlements—will not affect the current generation, but it will have an unquestionably disproportionate effect on these same children down the road. Hispanic children will enter adulthood to find our safety net in tatters. Cuts to Social Security and Medicare will be acutely felt by a poorer and potentially less healthy generation.

As a Latina, voter, and mother, I ask myself how that is fair. How can our leaders pass the burden on to today’s children? Why would our nation’s leaders condemn young Latinos to a childhood of neglect and an adulthood of suffering? Why would they kill the American Dream for nearly one-quarter of our nation’s children? These are questions that all Latinos, and all Americans, must ask themselves. Then we must resolve to make a difference. Our community must inform itself and act to ensure that our nation’s leaders get the message: our community will not let them damn our children to a lifetime of poverty.