Thing for the Economy, the Right Thing for the Poor
by Jim Wallis
and the nation are at a crossroads. Unemployment, poverty, and hardship
are on the rise. For many years, official Washington has said, “It is
not the time to deal with poverty,” whether in good or bad economic
times. The stars have now aligned in the midst of this economic crisis,
and it is precisely the time to address the urgent issues of poverty in
First, economists across the political spectrum agree that the economy
desperately needs to be stimulated by federal investment in things that
will generate immediate economic activity and jobs. Second, the same
analysts also agree that benefits to low-income families will result in
immediate economic stimulation as people in distress will spend the
money they receive because they have no other choice. In other words,
directly helping vulnerable people works because it will quickly help
stimulate the economy, and it’s right because it will immediately help
poor and vulnerable people. How often do we get to do what works and
what’s right at the same time?
At the heart of our religious traditions is the command to help the
vulnerable and to have a bias for the poorest among us. The compromise
the economic stimulus package agreed to in Congress yesterday takes some
important steps in directly assisting poor and low-income people and
stimulating the economy at the same time. Helping those who have fallen
on hard times -- and helping states avert cuts in a range of critical
services -- will do more to help the economy and create jobs than poorly
targeted tax cuts.
The package includes some significant funding increases for food
stamps, increasing and extending unemployment benefits, health insurance
for unemployed workers, Medicaid, Head Start, the Child Care Development
Block Grant, and fiscal relief for states to assist them in meeting
their budget deficits without cutting needed social services. It expands
the Earned Income Tax Credit, including marriage penalty relief, and
considerably expands the Child Tax Credit. While not all of these were
funded at the levels we might have hoped for, taken together they do
represent significant assistance to those in need.
The economic forecasts are bleak and if unemployment reaches 9
percent, as many predict, the increases in poverty could be stunning.
These provisions in the stimulus package all push against the rising
tide of poverty and hardship. Economists have also concluded that they
are among the most effective mechanisms for shoring up the flagging
The final stimulus package takes an important step toward doing the
best thing for the economy and the right thing for the poor.