Weekly Advocacy and Public Policy Update

August 2nd, 2011 § 1 comment

Federal

Congress came to a verbal agreement on the debt ceiling Sunday evening. The House voted in favor of the Budget Control Act of 2011 (bill text) yesterday evening, and the Senate passed it earlier today.  All house representatives in our 21-county service territory voted in favor of the bill except for John Carter (R-TX31) who did not vote . Senators Cornyn and Hutchinson voted in favor as well.  The bill awaits final approval from the president.

Members of Congress and political pundits are still unclear about all the details of the agreement. However, the Congressional Budget Office reports that the deal trims at least $2.1 trillion in spending over the next 10 years, and raises the debt limit in a two-step process. How the spending cuts will actually play out is uncertain. This is what we do know:

  1. The cap is on federal nutrition programs and it is about to get screwed even tighter. Government-wide budget caps are set for the next ten fiscal years; which means that federal nutrition programs like WIC, TEFAP and CSFP will face even stiffer competition for federal dollars against other federal programs like military and education spending. Entitlement programs such as SNAP, Medicaid and Social Security are exempt from these caps.
  2. A “Super-Committee” is tasked with finding an additional $1.5 trillion in cuts to the deficit, just in time for Thanksgiving. In less than four months hunger activists will need to influence this plan to ensure hungry children, seniors and families are not bearing the brunt of these cuts. The plan needs to be unveiled by November 23 and approved by December 23.
  3. A failed Super-Committee plan guarantees an unfair burden placed on middle and low-income families. If Congress fails to pass the super committee plan or enacts less than $1.2 million in cuts, across-the-board cuts will occur. There is one small victory: Social safety-net programs including Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, SNAP, Child Care and Development Block Grant program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit are not subject to these cuts. It is unclear whether TEFAP – which provides food banks with a significant percentage of food – will be on the chopping block. However, all other programs helping middle and low-income families are fair game.
  4. Unemployment and low-wage job growth may be the next bubble to force Central Texans to food lines. Under this new bargain, federal unemployment benefits will not be extended under the new bargain. For the first time since the 1950’s Congress will not provide extra weeks of aid during a recession where the unemployment rate is greater than 7.2 percent.The Austin-American Statesman recently reported that the effects of the Legislature’s spending cuts are already upon us with the Austin-area unemployment rate up to 7.6 percent from 6.8 percent in June.   While Texas does seem to be fairing better than the rest of the nation in net job gain, the types of job creation over the past year are mostly in low-skill, low-wage industries according to the Capital Area Council of Government’s 2011 mid-year economic review. As we’ve mentioned before, this type of job creation doesn’t bode well for individuals hoping to land a job that provides a living wage for their families, much less long-term prosperity. Governor Perry’s claim to unmatched job growth and low unemployment is hardly the full story.

State

Credit: NewsTaco.com

State legislative and federal Congressional districts have been redrawn in response to population changes determined by the results of the last census. Texas is gaining four new Congressional seats.

The newly created 35th district which spans from San Antonio to Travis County is eyed by both Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX25) and State Rep. Joaquin Castro (Dist. 125).

At the same time, we are seeing an almost certain run by Governor Rick Perry for the presidency, and a declared run by Lt. Governor David Dewhurst for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. Current Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples is all but sure to run for Lt. Governor. This changes the personality of the state capitol significantly—in priorities of those in charge, and in knowledge of hunger and food access issues. Watch here for more news on the musical chairs of office-holders.

The legislative session may be over, but the sting of what was decided has just begun. The Texas Tribune is running a series over the next 31 days on how state mandates and cuts are going to affect the Texas citizen. Day one covers the impact of thousands of teachers losing their jobs.

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