The war on the poor

This month, the Obama administration and Congress avoided war in the Middle East. On the other hand, Republican representatives launched an attack on the country’s middle class and the poor, on issues ranging from health care to food assistance, and now even their access to phones.

Last week, Republicans voted for the 41st time to defund Obamacare, a program that would benefit the poor, seniors and the unemployed who need medical care.

At the same time, the Republican-led House passed $40 billion in additional cuts to food benefits. The New York City Coalition Against Hunger estimates that 1.5 million city residents depend on food distribution centers, and that 43% of the Latino population have difficulty putting food on the table.

Now Republicans are targeting Lifeline, a federal program that makes cell phones accessible to low-income people and seniors. Two bills in Congress seek to eliminate what they call “Obamaphones,” even though Lifeline isn’t a program that Obama started—it was created 25 years ago during the Reagan administration.

Estimates show that nationwide, almost 7 million Latinos benefit from the program, and 140,742 of them live in New York City.

Republicans are questioning the program’s effectiveness because of alleged abuse in the approval process and use of the cell phones. While it’s true that abuse has been reported, it is minimal in comparison to the population that is served.

In February, the FCC implemented broad reforms to ensure the funds reach users who really need them. The changes include the creation of an accountability database to confirm eligibility and identify duplicate enrollments. The subsidies available were also reduced by 75% to eliminate incentives for fraud for some phone companies that were enrolling non-eligible people. The FCC’s new measures will save up to $2 billion in three years. Of course, the Republicans aren’t mentioning this in their bills.

The GOP doesn’t seem to understand that the Lifeline program is a way to climb out of poverty and a vital resource for seniors living alone, the unemployed looking for work and those at-risk for homelessness. These phones, at low costs for users and a small fraction of congressional budget, help millions of people seek opportunities so they can stop depending on other social benefits.

If the GOP refuses to believe that there are “Two Americas,” it should stop working so hard to broaden this gap and doing so little to fight the inequality that is undermining our nation.