Hill Urged to Address Basic Needs

NASW is among the cosponsors of a letter sent to all members of Congress that highlighted the urgent need to help low- and moderate-income people during a faltering economy.

NASW is a member of the Coalition on Human Needs, an alliance of national organizations working together to promote public policies that address the needs of low-income and other vulnerable people.

The letter went to lawmakers while they debated final details of federal budget resolutions.

"We strongly urge that the final budget resolution include the highest possible domestic discretionary funding out of the choices before you," the coalition stated. "Failure to maximize domestic appropriations will result in vital housing, home, energy, nutrition, health, education and other services for young and old alike [being] simply unable to keep up with existing use, much less rising need. We also urge you to support a budget resolution with important reserve funds that contribute to health and well-being as well as to economic growth and that do not squander revenues vitally needed to pay for national priorities."

The letter stated that an analysis of human needs appropriations since fiscal year 2005 showed erosions in funding. Out of more than 100 direct-service programs in areas tracked by the Coalition on Human Needs — including health, child welfare, Head Start and child care, nutrition, housing, job training and education — only 11 programs grew beyond inflation from fiscal year (FY) 2005 through FY 2008; another three stayed even with current costs. All the rest were cut, the letter stated.

The results showed that in the past year, 62 percent of Head Start programs had to cut back on hours of service or other aspects of their operations; from FY 2004 to 2007, 150,000 rental housing vouchers were lost; 100,000 fewer children received child care assistance in FY 2008 that the year before; and an estimated 169,000 fewer workers received training through the Workforce Investment Act in FY 2008 than in FY 2005.

"We must do more than simply rebuild what has been lost," the coalition stated. "The service providers among us are seeing a continuing and stark increase in need."

The letter also displayed some statistics to show the severity of the problem. For example, the letter highlights that the National Energy Assistance Directors' Association reported 1.2 million households with gas or electricity shut-offs last spring. Costs are up, but help per household from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program is down because there are too many lining up for need. Also, rising jobless rates mean more job training and placement services are needed, the letter stated.

The cost of groceries is also a concern. The letter pointed out that costs are up 5.1 percent since February 2008. "With incomes down, there will be still more families in line at food pantries," the letter stated. "That is why we so strongly urge you to make every effort to maximize the discretionary funds available for human-needs services."

The coalition also pointed out to lawmakers a list of important reserve funds it strongly favors. This includes:

  • A $50 billion reserve fund for reauthorizing the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), in both House and Senate versions.
  • House and Senate language to allow increased federal funding for child support enforcement, to prevent the loss of $11 billion in support owed to children and their families over the next 10 years.
  • Senate farm bill reserve fund, to ease the speedy enactment of a farm bill with a strong nutrition title including Food Stamps and emergency food improvements.
  • Health care provisions, including reserves in the House and Senate bills to allow for moratoria on Medicaid regulations that would reduce eligibility and benefits and shift costs to states.
  • An affordable-housing fund in the House and Senate budgets.
  • An Economic Relief for Families fund in the Senate bill, allowing improvements in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and child welfare services.