is Time to Reconstruct America
May 8, 2003
By John Parvensky
bombs have stopped falling over Baghdad and the major fighting
has now stopped. Everywhere from Congress to NATO, from the
United Nations to the European Union the question now being
asked is "Who will reconstruct Iraq?"
Yet in communities across the nation, the question being
heard on the home front is "Who will reconstruct America?"
The time has clearly come to begin rebuilding our communities
in the wake of the devastation caused by the struggling economy
and disinvestment. It is also time to help build bridges of
reconciliation between those who have supported and those
who have opposed the war in Iraq.
We understand that significant resources must be spent to
reconstruct Iraq in light of the damage caused by the war
to its infrastructure and its people. However, we must resist
the notion that resources used for this purpose should come
from needed domestic programs and services. Indeed, it is
critical that we begin now, more than ever, to reconstruct
America and redress the damage caused by years of neglect
and indifference to our communities and our people.
The uncertainties created by war have stressed our markets
and depressed our economy, causing increased unemployment,
hunger and homelessness throughout America. Due to the sluggish
economy, states and localities across the nation are facing
significant budget cuts for basic human needs programs.
According to the National Governor's Association, states
currently face budget shortfalls of $29 billion in fiscal
2003 and $82 billion in fiscal 2004. More than half of the
states have made FY 2003 program cuts that include Medicaid,
education, housing, aid to local governments, and health and
human services. Even more significant budget cuts have been
proposed for FY 2004.
In Colorado, in an attempt to save $6 million, the Legislature
has eliminated thousands of sick, poor and elderly "legal"
immigrants from eligibility for Medicaid, even though many
of these persons have worked and paid state taxes for years.
Notices have already been sent out to 120 immigrants living
in nursing homes that they will be evicted in 30 days since
they are no longer eligible for Medicaid.
In Oregon, budget cuts have led to the denial of lifesaving
prescriptions and mental health care to indigent persons.
The proposed budget for Connecticut would cut $40 million
from child care assistance programs, causing 30,000 low-income
children to lose the help they currently receive. Their mothers
would be forced to choose between putting their children at
risk or returning to the welfare rolls.
To add insult to injury, the proposed FY 2004 federal budget
would further reduce desperately needed health, human service,
and housing funding for our communities, creating additional
crises. It includes no new funding to help states and communities
recover from the economic downturn.
Are such cuts necessary to balance the budget? Evidently
not, since the President is also advocating a $720 Billion
tax cut over ten years that will increase red ink for years
to come, while further reducing state and local revenue.
As the President and Congress begin to refocus on the home
front, it is critical that they commit to reconstruct America
and her communities, particularly low income and minority
communities. An agenda to reconstruct America must:
Devote sufficient financial assistance to states,
cities and communities in order to maintain crucial human
service programs, including Medicaid, Food Stamps, housing
assistance, health care, mental health and substance treatment
programs, and child care.
Ensure that all members of our society, including
immigrants, have access to education, health care, housing,
jobs, and income support as basic human rights so that no
family or individual is at risk of losing their home.
Build new affordable housing for those working at
minimum wage and those on fixed incomes who cannot afford
existing housing in their communities.
Ensure that the due process rights of immigrants and
refugees in the United States of America are protected, and
that refugees seeking political asylum are not detained nor
treated as criminals.
Ensure that those returning from service in the war
are treated with dignity, and provided needed support to reconnect
to our communities.
Until these goals are realized, our nation will never realize
the promise of the American dream.
John Parvensky is President of Colorado Coalition for the
Homeless. He is a recent recipient of the Leadership for a
Changing World award presented by the Ford Foundation.