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Hope in Budget, But More Work to be Done

Hope in Budget, But More Work to be Done

The Capitol building at night

 

Late last week, Congressional leaders announced a final deal to fund the government until September 2016. This was an important moment, as this budget had the potential to fund (or defund) a number of the priorities we care about as Reform Jews. Together, we sent hundreds of letters to members of Congress, urging them to pass a budget free that focused on fully funding the critical human needs programs. We can find much optimism in the final budget passed, showing that when we raise our voices, we can help make real change in Washington. At the same time, the lack of significant funding increases for certain programs show we have much more work to do to provide for the most vulnerable members of our society and to protect our planet.

The budget passed was free of some of the most harmful policy riders that would have threatened a great number of people. For example, the budget:

  • Did not defund Planned Parenthood and their work providing an array of essential healthcare services;
  • Did not tighten restrictions on the Syrian refugee resettlement program, similar to the restrictions proposed in the American SAFE Act passed by the House. So, while it still takes years for Syrian refugees to pass the multi-layered screening process America has set, we have not made it any harder for America to serve as the refuge for those who have been forced from their home with nowhere to go;
  • Did not raid the National Housing Trust Fund, creating a path forward for Congress to provide affordable housing for many more Americans; and
  • Did not block President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, ensuring that America can remain on target to low coal emissions that contribute to global climate change.

 

While we are glad that these policy provisions were not included in the budget, there were others that not included which we would help low income Americans and others in need. This budget:

  • Did not restore Housing Choice Vouchers, a Section 8 housing program which subsidizes the rent of low income tenants for certain housing units. If Congress funds more vouchers, fewer people will be homeless and have to depend on shelters, doubling up with friends or relatives, or living in unsafe locations;
  • Did not increase funding for the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, requiring agencies to continue to stretch their funding to provide services to women and young children; and
  • While it did make the Earned Income Tax Credit permanent to help low income families, it did not increase the rate for childless workers, meaning that this group of people are the only Americans that are taxed at a rate that pulls them into poverty.

 

Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner released a statement when the budget tax extenders deal was announced highlighting the mixed outcome of this budget. He explained:

“The Jewish tradition compels each of us to “speak up, judge righteously, and champion the poor and needy (Proverbs 14:31). These bills respond to that call, but there is so much more we must do to make our vision of a more whole world a reality.”

 

As we head into 2016, let us stay engaged with this process. If we continue to reach out to our elected officials, we will see a budget next year which builds on the progress we have made this year and will better the lives of all Americans, in the model of our highest Jewish ideals.

To learn more about the budget, visit the RAC’s Economic Justice page.

Tyler Dratch is the Torah, text, and tradition coordinator at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (the RAC) and a rabbinical student at Hebrew College in Newton, MA.

Tyler Dratch

Published: 12/21/2015