Point of View

Moms v. millionaires: Families and the fiscal cliff

December 23, 2012 

As a mom of two, I’m a veteran of the staring game. You know, the one where the first to blink loses. While this can be a fun way to pass the time with your kids, it’s bad public policy.

Unfortunately, our nation’s lawmakers are playing a high-stakes game of chicken in which the main losers will be our children and families. As the so-called “fiscal cliff” looms, lawmakers must make a choice. Will they stand with moms, dads and families on Main Streets across the nation or will they side with special interests and billionaires?

The past few years have been tough ones, as all of the recent data show. Household incomes are down, and many parents are working hard to get ahead at work and raise their children. In 2011, more than half a million N.C. children (22.5 percent) lived in poverty, with 228,250 (10.2 percent) living in extreme poverty in families with under $2 a day per person to survive.

Right now 2.8 million children nationwide live in extreme poverty, barely getting by. Nearly 1 in 5 U.S. children struggle with hunger. That’s 16 million kids. And if Congress doesn’t act soon, hundreds of thousands of American children could get even hungrier.

With Congress back in session, the top priority is struggling with the “fiscal cliff.” The situation for working families stands to get much worse if the House and Senate don’t reach a deal quickly on government spending, triggering massive across the board cuts beginning in January. This could cost millions of jobs and hurt health care, education, aid to state and local governments, and programs vital to kids and families, such as Head Start, child care and food safety.

What could the fiscal cliff mean for hungry kids? If we “fall off,” 900,000 infants, children and moms will stop receiving WIC. And proposed House cuts could mean 8 million people being denied food aid.

In a moms vs. billionaires scenario, Congress must decide before the end of the year whether to end the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans – those with household incomes higher than $250,000 a year. Ending them would generate about $1 trillion in revenue and allow us to protect middle class priorities like education, Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare from deep cutbacks.

On the other hand, if we go off a “fiscal cliff” because some in Congress refuse to end the tax cuts for the very wealthy before the year ends, then the average family will pay $3,000 more per year in taxes according to a recent Forbes article. That’s you. That’s me. That’s almost all of us. That’s the wrong direction for a nation already facing massive income inequality.

At the same time, lawmakers will be deciding the fate of improvements to programs proven to help lift working families out of poverty. Last summer the US Senate passed improvements to the Child Tax Credit, Earned Income Tax Credit, and the American Opportunity Credit that would help more than half-a-million North Carolina families, including 1.1 million children. These credits mean working families can direct those additional dollars to investment in their own and their children’s education so they can get ahead. They also translate into spending in local communities hard hit by the recession.

Unfortunately, those same improvements were eliminated by the plan passed this summer in the US House, which instead extended the tax cuts for people with incomes over $250,000, as well as the exemption from estate taxes at $5 million for individuals and $10 million for couples. A whopping 140 NC families would benefit from the estate tax exemption-140 families who don’t need the help.

Moms need Congress to take a different approach in the lame-duck session. Congress needs to stand with America’s families by refusing to raise taxes on middle-class families in order to protect tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires and reaffirming their commitment to proven programs like the Earned Income Tax Credit that help lift hardworking families out of poverty. They must end the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, defend investments in America's middle class, and prevent drastic cuts to health care, education, and critical economic security programs. And they need to protect Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security.

We all need 2013 to be a better year for working families in North Carolina. And that means ensuring that the fiscal cliff doesn’t lead to additional job losses, cuts to vital programs or the loss of tax credits that help working class families get ahead.

The clock is ticking. The choice is clear. Helping moms over millionaires is the right policy for spurring the economy, reducing the deficit, and supporting NC’s working families.

Beth Messersmith is the NC Campaign Director for MomsRising.org.

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