The New Year is right around the corner, and while most people are probably worrying about their New Year’s Resolutions, there are still concerns about the fiscal cliff. Depending on the President’s and Congress’ decision, America’s economy may have to face reduced spending for safety net programs and tax increases on higher income families to address the nation’s deficit. On Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012, the Center on Children and Families at Brookings and Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity, held an event at the Brookings Institution in Washington D.C. to discuss what’s in store for the next four years.
Two major political figures and a panel of experts with extensive experience in previous administrations talked about the impact of the election on programs affecting the poor and the opportunities for economic advancement. In particular, panelists were vocal about proposals intended to help the economy by spending on safety nets for the poor.
“We need to preserve the safety net,” said Isabel Sawhil, senior fellow and co-director of the Center on Children and Families at the Brookings Institution. The safety net includes programs that promote upward mobility like Social Security and the Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) formerly known as Food Stamps and Medicaid.
Panelists talked about the safety net because ideas from each party differ. On the one hand, the Democratic Party believes that there should be more safety net programs to help America’s economy and promote upward mobility. On the other hand, the Republican Party believes that deep spending cuts will lead to a better result.
“I hate that the Republicans are always tagged with the image of not favoring the poor when in fact, I’ve dedicated my whole life to finding policies that benefit all people, especially the poor,” said Tevi Troy, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. “Poverty is something still with us and we need to do something about it…There’s too many programs and not enough results.”
But Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council at The White House, said, “You can’t be a person who is for continuing education and childcare then favor deep cuts because it cuts those people off.” He urged people to recognize those areas in which progress was made. “Affordable Care Act is a step up,” he said. “We obviously need more programs.”
JoAnne Barnhart, former commissioner of Social Security Administration said, “Raising money assistance does not help the economy.”
Troy from the Hudson Institute believes that “smart targeted reform” is necessary. “If we do have an economic downfall the poor will get hit first and the worse, one reason is because when jobs start to dry up, low-wage jobs go first and that effects the poor,” he added, “If we want to make cuts fast we need to look at a better way.”
Troy also brought up a point that everyone agreed with: “There are three rules in stopping poverty: finish school, work full time and have children inside marriage.”
John Bridgeland, president and CEO of Civic Enterprises said, “It’s true that the first thing to stop poverty is to graduate high school…One principle that guides me is, ‘Don’t be addicted to government but don’t run away from it’.”
Bridgeland commented on the idea of reducing funds and stated that, “A lot of money is going into programs that don’t work.” The goal he said, should not be to eliminate programs but to focus on the ones that work.
Jared Bernstein, senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, agreed with Troy’s second rule for stopping poverty but added, “You can’t work full time if there’s no full time jobs.”
“There is no better social program than a full employment economy that increases opportunity for everyone,” he added.
Agreeing to Troy’s third rule, Sawhil said, “Not to say that single parents aren’t doing a heroic job, having two parents is definitely an advantage.”
The discussion continued to go on about ways to stop poverty and what might happen to the American economy over the next four years. “A lot of the next four years is going to look like the first four years, which is figuring out how to stop what was started,” said, Mona Sutphen, former deputy chief of Staff for Policy at The White House, referring to the debt President Barack Obama inherited during his first term.
All agreed the decisions now being made will have wide impact. “The President and Congress have a lot of work to do to bring it together,” said Barnhart, “and whatever the decision, it will effect everybody.”