Current Political Issues

Today marks the start of the U.N. MDG Summit in NYC, a once-in-a-generation opportunity to re-assess the progress being made on the Millennium Development Goals. In 2000, the U.S. joined 188 other countries to sign the MDG’s and affirm that by 2015 its 8 goals should be met (including eradicating extreme poverty, halting AIDS and other disease, achieving universal primary education, etc). The U.S. has yet to keep its promise in allocating its part of the funding for the MDG’s, and as the wealthiest country on the planet, this has slowed down progress on the MDG’s just a little. My work with the ONE Campaign, the U.S. campaign to fund the MDG’s, parallels work and awareness being raised in countries all over the globe that all believe in an age when we can – for the first time – actually end extreme poverty and stop the cycle of AIDS, hunger, poverty, we should. Figures differ somewhat, but even just ONE percent of the federal budget (not GNP), the same amount we spend on Iraq every two weeks (roughly 35 billion), would make a huge difference in the lives of the poorest people in the world. Many Americans don’t know that right now, the U.S. spends only about 1/3 of one percent of our federal budget on all of our international poverty-focused development assistance (0.39%).

While the numbers game can seem overwhelming or misleading, there are many leading scientists, people of faith, environmentalists, politicians, and everyday citizens who have joined across many belief spectrums to urge funding the MDG’s as a way for the U.S. to spend a little and accomplish a lot. With an additional ONE percent of our budget, 10 million kids would be saved from becoming AIDS orphans, 900 million people would get clean water, and 6.5 million children under the age of five would live a a result of low-cost vaccinations and/or access to clean water. Its not that much money for our country, and it is a goal we already previously agreed to.

There are, of course, debates around the MDGs, the U.S.’s place in the U.N., the role of people of faith in development assistance, and the details of how the money would work along with debt relief, fairer trade, and anti-corruption measures to really reach the people intended. This week, lots of articles and rallies, prayer vigils and national events are happening Sept. 14-16; so we can all learn more about these issues and think through what role we should or might play in the international world regarding the growing suffering, death, and poverty that exists.

On the domestic front, below is an interesting article on the realities of funding relief to people after Katrina, and the remaining proposed cuts to programs that would help this population and others climb out of poverty here at home.

Congress Finesses the Storm (Washington Post, 9/14/05)

President Bush’s vow to speed welfare assistance to the victims of Hurricane Katrina overlooks the gruesome determination of many Republican Congressional leaders to make $13 billion in cuts for Medicaid and food stamps. They quietly plan this even as they throw short-term emergency money at the crisis.

Sustaining their health and income is vital to the storm’s impoverished survivors now and well into the future. But the most basic cuts in antipoverty programs are planned for enactment later this month by the same Republican majorities that approved the president’s upper-bracket tax cuts and created deficits for a generation to come.

Congress’s budget hawks are clearly hoping that the cacophony of sympathetic speechifying about the storm victims will distract the public from these cuts and from the fact that they will land heavily on the three states most devastated by the hurricane, where roughly one out of three children were already dependent on Medicaid.

Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi, the former Republican national chairman, personifies his party leaders’ contradiction in begging for emergency aid now after having championed painful cuts in the social safety net. Until recently, Mr. Barbour has been in the spotlight as his state’s unapologetic Medicaid antagonist. Rejecting the alternative of a tax increase, he severely cut drug benefits. And before the courts intervened, he had sought to drop 65,000 poor, elderly and disabled people from the program.

Mr. Barbour remains one of Washington’s most powerful emeritus lobbyists. He can spare his president and party a shameful episode by urging that the pending cuts for some of the storm’s neediest be deep-sixed.

Helping and Hurting, post-Katrina

Good thoughts on balancing how we help and may hurt after disasters and suffering, from Covenant World Relief Director, Jim Sundholm:

While the desire by concerned donors is to move quickly to offer homes for housing displaced families, that offer of help often needs to come once the affected families have come to grips with the reality of their situation – accepting the fact that they may never be able to return to their former neighborhoods and will need to move on with their lives. “That is something that each person has to work through at their own pace,” Sundholm says.

One must also be sensitive to the other emotions that are at work in these situations, including the feeling on the part of many displaced people that they are losing control over their own lives and destinies. “We offer assistance with the best of intentions, but we must be careful that those affected do not see the offers of relocation and other assistance as another potential loss of control over their own futures,” Sundholm observes. “It is a sensitive time.”

Full article on ECC involvement after Katrina and CWR’s response.