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11th Congressional District Community Caucus meets in Tremont

by Chuck Hoven

(Plain Press, March 2011) The 11th Congressional District Community Caucus held a February 19th meeting in the Tremont neighborhood at St. Theodosius Church on Starkweather Avenue. The guest speaker, Congresswoman Marcia L. Fudge, D 11, shared some of her thoughts on the current political climate in Washington D.C. and fielded questions from constituents. The 11th Congressional District includes the Ward 3 portions of the Tremont and Ohio City neighborhoods.

Congresswoman Fudge made it clear that President Barack Obama’s proposed budget, offering cuts in Community Development Block Grants, Food Stamps, Head Start, school lunches, and Home Energy Assistance Program, is a direct result of tax breaks offered to the wealthy as part of a compromise with Republicans in Congress made by the president late last year. Fudge said most of the $80 billion dollars in tax reductions will go to millionaires.

Fudge said she was against renewing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy that are now resulting in severe cuts in programs that benefit her constituents. She noted that 20% of the people and 40% of the African Americans in her Congressional District benefited from the Food Stamp program. She said 100% of the students in schools in her district were eligible for the school lunch program.

Fudge noted that the Obama administration’s proposed cut in payroll deductions for Social Security tax would hurt the long-range stability of the program.

She said about one third of the federal deficit is due to the decline in the economy in which greed on Wall Street played a big role, about one third is due to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and one third is due to the Bush tax cuts. However, the tax policy to combat the deficits is shifting the tax burden from the wealthy and hurting the poor with cuts in programs.

Fudge asked residents of her district, given the state of the proposed budget, “Who is representing you?”  She said the presidents’ budget proposes cutting the HEAP program in half from $5 billion to $2.5 billion. This is a program that provides heating assistance in the winter and air conditioning in severe heat to seniors, the disabled and the poor. She noted some other cuts that will hurt the poor including a  $700 million proposed cut in the Women Infant and Children (WIC) nutrition program, and proposed cuts to the PELL grants that help low income students to afford college tuition. She said the PELL grant cuts would reduce the amount of tuition assistance from $5,500 to a maximum of $4,700 per year and eliminate grants for year round tuition for students trying to accelerate their graduation by taking classes in the summer.

Fudge said the president’s proposed budget, cuts deep into areas we didn’t think should be cut. She said proposed cuts in this year’s budget, being proposed by Tea Party supported Republicans in Congress, were worse than the president’s cuts proposed for next year. Fudge indicated she had been up for 40 hours and just left Congress early that morning after a recess from battles on a cuts proposed in an effort to pass a continuing resolution to keep the government running this year. She believes that some of the 100 new members of Congress, elected this year, want to shut the government down to make a political point about cutting the budget.

Citing one policy stance of the new members of Congress that will hurt her constituents, she said they are proposing a tax break for dead millionaires that will result in an $8 billion dollar revenue loss, while at the same time proposing to raise the eligibility age for people to receive Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare. Fudge says increasing the retirement age to age 70 means that many African Americans will pay into the system but never receive their benefits because of statistically lower life expectancies due to lower access to health care and other factors.

Fudge predicted that cuts proposed by the Republicans in Congress would result in the loss of 200,000 jobs –from job losses in programs funded by CDBG, fewer college degrees resulting in fewer jobs, and in cuts in funding to police and teachers.

Fudge was critical of the Obama administration’s Race to the Top education program. She said after sitting on the Education Committee for 2 ½ years she was of the opinion the program is designed to push teachers that want to teach out of the profession and attacking the seniority system that now protects teachers.

Fudge says she was reassigned from the Educational Committee by Congressional leadership this year and placed on the Agricultural Committee. She says at first she thought she was being placed in a committee that had nothing to do with her district, but then she learned that Food Stamps, the School Lunch Program and programs to attack “food deserts” and make fresh fruits and vegetables available in neighborhoods all fell under the Department of Agriculture.

Fudge stressed the importance of improving diet and exercise opportunities in a country where many children are now obese, 80% of children have no physical education in school, and many have no outdoor exercise outlet because they can’t walk in their neighborhoods.

Congresswoman Fudge did have some positive news to share. She said an $18 million dollar grant would help area young people to work with the STEM programs and the Great Lakes Science Center to better prepare them for careers in science and technology.

She said a number of grants to green technology have been made through the Recovery Act including a grants to  Job Corp and Cuyahoga Community College to help invest in a future green technology workforce. She urged residents to look up the funding of these programs on the Recovery Act website.

Fudge noted a $200 billion dollar effort to help veterans with job training. She said a large number of veterans are jobless and veterans make up a large percentage of the homeless population.

Congresswoman Fudge suggested that instead of cutting programs that benefit the poor, Congress should stop making war. “If we got out of Afganistan and Iraq, we could balance our budget.”

Responding to a question whether there was a constituency in Washington D.C. to advocate for the poor given that the rhetoric from the administration and Congress are increasingly aimed at pleasing the middle class or the wealthy but rarely focusing on the poor. Fudge says her colleagues in Washington D.C. never use the word “poor.” She said the Progressive, Black, Asian Pacific and Hispanic Caucuses make up about 40% of the Democratic Party. She said they were the only forces in Congress that were advocates for the concerns of the poor.

Despite all the talk about the middle class, Fudge said, “What is the middle class?  People are losing income. The middle class is gone. There really isn’t a middle class.”  She noted people of middle income are disappearing while wealthy increase their share of income and the number of poor people continues to rise.

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