Kilroy Was Here
February 15, 2003
Cuts for the Street; the Street for the Poor
From the New York Times editorial page:
There is one impressive quality to President Bush's budgeting plan, with its outsized tax cuts and deficits: His social planners still manage to keep their eye on the sparrow out there, aiming to squeeze a rent rise from some of the poorest Americans who live in public housing. The proposed increase amounts to mere budgetary breakage in comparison with the big numbers for the rolling red ink and the second wave of upper-bracket tax cuts at the heart of the Bush plan. But it is a striking example of the administration's range of priorities: to be further easing the tax burden at the high end while pointedly ratcheting up the revenue for shelter required from the least of us.
Under the proposal, present local options for charging the lowest-income residents zero to $25 a month rent would be replaced by a mandated minimum of $50, or higher in some cases. The poor will not be able to seek an exemption from local authorities as they now can when threatened by illness, job loss or eviction. Instead, in an outrageous case of federalization by an administration that preaches the virtues of state control, the poor could seek a hardship exemption only by appealing to the secretary of housing and urban development.
Thousands of families now paying an average of 30 percent of their income in rent would face the danger of eviction, and local housing authorities who try at all costs to avoid an increase in homelessness could do nothing to help. The housing proposal has the same retrogressive edge as the president's welfare renewal bill approved this week by the Republican House. This requires that welfare mothers work 40 hours a week instead of the present 30, even as available aid shrinks for transportation and child care.
The House bill does have $300 million for "marriage promotion" and $50 million to encourage sexual abstinence. This is budgeting theory for the poor rooted in President Bush's recent observation before a conference of religious broadcasters: "Welfare policy will not solve the deepest problems of the spirit."
Of course not, but that is hardly reason to retreat from the problems of the body. We can only hope that the Senate has enough spirit to defeat the welfare renewal bill, as it did last year, and kill this mean-spirited public housing rule.
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