Democratic Underground  

It is Time to Reconstruct America
May 8, 2003
By John Parvensky

The 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.

Printer-friendly version
Tell a friend about this article Tell a friend about this article
Discuss this article
Democratic Underground Homepage