by Adrienne Bush, director, Housing and Homeless Coalition of Kentucky
Remember building a house of cards when you were a kid? The more weight you added, the likelier it was to come toppling down.
For thousands of Kentucky families, life feels a lot like that house of cards – and keeping everything together is far from child’s play. As director of the Homeless and Housing Coalition of Kentucky, I see firsthand how hard Kentucky families work to afford a place to call home. Too many juggle multiple jobs and still come up short in paying for the basics, like rent, groceries and school supplies. Too many are stretching thin paychecks to care for kids and aging or sick relatives at the same time.
For more than 84,000 Kentucky families – and 5 million like them across the country – federal funding for housing and homeless prevention programs is essential to helping them keep a roof over their heads. That’s why we’re profoundly worried about the federal tax proposal currently in front of the Senate, which threatens to push already vulnerable households to disaster’s brink.
This tax proposal would increase federal deficits by at least $1.4 trillion over the coming decade. The higher deficits that would result from the plan would ultimately have to be paid for. Congressional Republicans have made clear that they intend to come back next year and try to pay for these tax cuts by cutting programs like Medicaid, Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), Head Start, housing assistance and college aid.
And they’ve already told us how they’d make these cuts. The President’s budget for this fiscal year proposed cutting aid for homeless people by $133 million, eliminating funding for more than 250,000 Housing Choice Vouchers and raising rents by a total of $4 billion on four million poor families, seniors and people with disabilities. The 2018 House and Senate budget resolutions called for trillions of dollars in cuts over ten years to programs that help Kentuckians afford the basics such as food, health care and a roof over their heads. The human toll of such moves would be disastrous: threatening the fragile stability of millions of people who work hard to build decent lives for themselves and their children.
Nearly 9 out of 10 households using housing vouchers include seniors, people with disabilities or children. My staff and I see the real lives behind these statistics every day. We know the guy who made a good living before his accident in the mine, and now scrambles to pay the bills on minimum wage. We know the single mom working two jobs to pay for child care, food and rent. We know the elderly woman who counts on Meals on Wheels to eat. We know the grandparents raising their grandchildren. We, along with our fellow housing providers, know the 215 literally homeless people in Central Kentucky waiting for housing assistance. We know the housing needs of our most vulnerable neighbors across the commonwealth.
The work we do with Kentuckians across the state makes clear to us that families who face the steepest odds now face a double jeopardy. First, the proposed tax plan will raise taxes on low-income Kentuckians. And then, when federal deficits rise due to the huge tax cuts for the wealthy, Congress will make draconian cuts to essential support programs, including Medicaid, Medicare and SNAP, which ensures children don’t go hungry.
Housing, food assistance and health care may be different line items in a federal budget. But for a family’s budget, they’re all part of a careful balancing act. Take away one, and the rest could come crashing down.
So this month, Congress has a decision to make. Will they pass a tax plan that will push those living on the margins over the edge? Or will they reject this approach and keep our most vulnerable citizens on the path to stability, with the dignity of a roof over their heads, food to eat, and care when they’re ill?
Voters like me, my staff, our members across the Commonwealth, and thousands of everyday Kentuckians like us are watching – and waiting for Congress to do the right thing.
Adrienne Bush is the Director of the Homeless and Housing Coalition of Kentucky. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.