14:03 EST, 2 April 2013
14:05 EST, 2 April 2013
The number of Americans living in
poverty has spiked to levels not seen since the mid 1960s, classing 20
per cent of the country’s children as poor.
comes at a time when government spending cuts of $85 billion have
kicked in after feuding Democrats and Republicans failed to agree on a
better plan for addressing the national deficit.
cuts will directly affect 50 million Americans living below the poverty
income line and reduce their chances of finding work and a better life.
Before spending cuts kicked in
on March 1st, 49-year-old Antonio Hammond became a success story for
Catholic Charities of Baltimore - one of a multitude of organizations
trying to haul people out of poverty.
In this Maryland port city, one of four residents is considered poor by U.S. government standards.
Success story: Before spending cuts kicked in,
49-year-old Antonio Hammond (pictured) became a success story for
Catholic Charities of Balitmore and is now in employment
Hammond says he ended up in
Baltimore three years ago, addicted to crack cocaine and snorting
heroin, living in abandoned buildings where "the rats were fierce," and
financing his addiction by breaking into cars and stealing copper pipes
out of crumbing structures.
months after finding his way to Catholic Charities via a rehabilitation
center, the Philadelphia native is back in the work force, clean of
drugs, earning $13 an hour cleaning laboratories for the Biotech
Institute of Maryland and paying taxes.
Catholic Charities, which runs a
number of federally funded programs, spent $18,000 from privately
donated funds to turn around Hammond's life through the organization's
Christopher's Place program which provides housing and support services
to recovering addicts and former prisoners.
Kicked his habit: Antonio Hammond (pictured)
says he ended up in Baltimore three years ago, addicted to crack cocaine
and snorting heroin - while living in poverty
success stories are in danger as billions in federal government
spending cuts begin squeezing services for the poor nationwide.
They are hitting as the U.S. slowly climbs out of the deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
"All I wanted to do was get high," Hammond said. "I didn't even know any more how to eat or clean myself."
he lives with two other men in housing subsidized by the charity, got
his driver's license and bought a car. What he marvels at the most is
that he has been accepted after a 20-year absence by some of his nine
children. That's the best part, he said. "At least I know now they might
not hate me."
U.S. Census Bureau puts the number of Americans in poverty at levels
not seen since the mid-1960s when President Lyndon B. Johnson launched
the federal government's so-called War on Poverty.
President Barack Obama began his second term in January, nearly 50
million Americans — one in six — were living below the income line that
defines poverty, according to the bureau. A family of four that earns
less than $23,021 a year is listed as living in poverty.
The bureau said 20 percent of the country's children are poor.
Although it is far from the country's poorest city, Baltimore's poverty rate far outstrips the national average of one in six.
Charities of Baltimore is a conduit for state and federal money for
programs designed to help the poor. The charity plays a major role in
administering Head Start, a federal program that provides educational
services for low-income pre-school children and frees single mothers to
find work without the huge expense of childcare.
The spending cuts, known as the sequester, are going to hit Head Start especially hard.
the sequester only half of the need was being met. Now, after the cuts
fully take effect, there will be 900 children already in the program who
won't be able to take part," said William McCarthy, executive director
of Catholic Charities.
There is no question the
national belt-tightening "will deepen and increase poverty," said
McCarthy, citing the cuts in long-term care for poor seniors including
assisted living and nursing care, and fewer low-income housing spaces,
among other ripple effects.
The streets of Baltimore: Baltimore is far from
the worst American city for poverty, but it faces all the problems of
cities where vast numbers of the poor now live
the spending cuts, Baltimore Housing Commissioner Paul T. Graziano said
his agency faces a $25 million shortfall in funds to help poor people
are 35,000 people on the waiting list. He also lamented cuts that will
hamper the city's efforts to clean up or demolish blighted
Baltimore has 15,000 vacant and abandoned structures as a result of a steep population decline over the past half century.
very, very disheartening. We take a couple of steps forward and then
fall back at least one. The private sector isn't going to fix these
neighborhoods. I view these things as investments, not expenditures.
These things are an investment in the future that bring returns many
times over," he said.
the U.S. economy is slowly recovering, improvements for those deep in
poverty do not keep pace with the cuts now in place.
spending reductions going into effect will hit hardest at Americans
whose prospects are not directly tied to the economy — people like
Antonio Hammond and children in the Head Start pre-school programs.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said Baltimore depends on federal grants and funding for 12 percent of its budget.
Kids on the streets: When President Obama
started his second term in January, 20 per cent of America's children
were classed as poor
austerity cuts "to housing programs_as well as those to public safety,
health, and education_will have an adverse effect on Baltimore and
throughout the country," she said.
cuts, which will also hit U.S. defense spending, were designed two
years ago as an incentive for lawmakers to avoid a standoff over the
federal debt and a potential government shutdown.
measures were seen as so onerous as to force Republicans and Democrats
in Congress to reach a compromise spending plan. But compromise proved
impossible before the March 1 deadline, and what were once seen as
unthinkable cuts automatically went into effect.
want a deficit reduction plan that includes some spending cuts and tax
increases on the wealthy. Republicans balk at any more tax increases and
insist the problem should be addressed solely by reigning in spending.
That feud continues as the two sides battle out future fiscal issues.
want to see even more cuts in next year's budget, reductions that
would, by and large, return military spending to pre-sequester levels
and provide big tax benefits to wealthy Americans.
2014 budget plan proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan, the vice presidential
candidate on the unsuccessful Republican presidential ticket last year,
would be particularly tough on social safety net programs.
plan would slash $135 billion over the next decade from the program
that provides food aid for low-income Americans. Nearly three-quarters
of households receiving help from the program include children, who,
census figures show, are the group hardest hit by poverty.
plan would also turn the government's Medicare health insurance program
for Americans age 65 and over into a voucher system, providing direct
government payments to seniors who would then try to buy insurance on
the private market.
Ryan defends his drive for austerity as necessary to begin shrinking the country's $16 trillion national debt.
Derelict conditions: Baltimore (pictured) has
15,000 vacant and abandoned structures as a result of a steep population
decline over the past half century
"If we never balance the budget, if we keep adding deficit upon deficit we have a debt crisis like Europe has.
means seniors lose their health care benefit, that means the people in
the safety net see the net cut and they go in the street.
That means you have a recession. These are the things we prevent from happening by balancing the budget.
the budget is but a means to an end. It's growing the economy, it's
creating opportunity, it's getting government to live within its means,"
he said in an interview with Fox News.
backs increasing taxes on the wealthy while instituting smaller
government spending cuts, a plan that would reduce deficit spending but
more slowly. He and most fellow Democrats argue that European-style
austerity has not worked there and will harm the U.S. recovery from the
an ideological fight that dates back decades. Republicans work from the
premise that by unleashing the private sector and removing government
controls, all Americans will prosper along with the economy and benefits
will flow down to lower-income earners.
insist there is an essential role for government in putting a floor
under the poor and helping local governments with problems that the
private sector cannot or will not shoulder.
Some worry the gap between rich and poor in the U.S. will keep widening under the austerity measures.
According to a report by the non-partisan Congressional Research Service late last year, "U.S.
distribution appears to be among the most unequal of all major
industrialized countries and the United States appears to be among the
nations experiencing the greatest increases in measures of income."
Anne O'Donnell, director of community services at Catholic Charities of
Baltimore, said increasing income inequality has shown itself
dramatically during the U.S. downturn.
the last three years, there's been a great change in the kinds of
people we are serving. There are increasing numbers of people who owned a
home, lost their jobs, end up living in their car and are coming with
children to our soup kitchen," she said.
organization spent $126 million in the last fiscal year feeding the
poor, helping them find jobs and housing, running nursing homes and
putting men like Hammond back on their feet.
that figure, $98 million came from various programs funded by the city,
state and federal governments. Those now face the big cuts as
politicians in Washington fail to find a compromise.
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