Feeling The Crunch By bave Denison over 200 years to reach the trilliondollar debt mark. The rising debt means greater interest costs to finance it. In FY 1981, $69 billion was needed to make the interest payments. This year, it will reach about $109 billion $2 billion more than all federal spending in 1962 and by FY 1989, interest payments will grow to $207 billion, 16 percent of government spending. That is a 200 percent increase in just eight years and makes it the fastest growing program during the Reagan Administration, faster even than military spending \(only a 162 percent When the effects of the tax cuts and the budget cuts are combined, the stark unfairness of the Republican program is clear. The wealthy receive far more benefits than any other income group, while the poorest households don’t just gain less they lose. The spending reductions from January 1981 through July 1983 amounted to $25.8 billion from retirement and disability programs billion from other income security programs \(such as unemployment insurance, food stamps, child nutrition, and programs \(primarily Medicare and Med social services, and $25.1 billion from employment and training programs. The number of Americans living in poverty rose, from 29.3 million in 1980 to 34.4 million in 1982, an increase of 26.6 percent. Reaganomics will bequeath to our children not only a staggering public debt, huge interest and corresponding tax burdens, and a diminished capital stock. It will also leave an enormous foreign debt, which will have to be serviced by further reductions in American living standards, as we repay our foreign creditors. Houston, Austin THE MAN who is now President of the United States once told the following joke about poverty in America: An employee named Smedley asks his boss, Mr. Goodie, for a $25 cut in salary. “If I made $25 less,” he tells his boss, “we’d be eligible for an apartment in the city’s new development, the one downtown with a pool, sauna, and tennis court. Besides, my son would qualify for a government scholarship and we would get his teeth fixed at government expense.” Mr. Goodie says OK, “on this condition. If your work slips, you’ll get a $10 raise, no questions asked.” “Bless you, Mr. Goodie.” “And Smedley, will you invite me over for tennis and a swim some night when you get into your new place?” “Certainly, sir,” Smedley replies. “I believe the poor should share with the less fortunate.” It was just a dumb joke when Ronald Reagan told it in 1978. Four years into his presidency, it begins to look like a policy statement. The subsidized housing that Smedley covets has been cut back. Smedley’s son might have a harder time getting financial aid for college. And he probably couldn’t get his teeth fixed at government expense. The amiable Republican, as if believing his own joke, has set out to make sure there is no one less fortunate than the poor. TO HOUSTON, TEXAS, then, for the evidence. You can find it at all the standard checkpoints the welfare offices, the food pantries, the soup kitchens. Marilyn Diggs sits in the waiting room of the Texas Department of Human Resources office on Crosstimbers Road in north Houston. Her two-month-old child is next to her in a plastic baby seat. She has a threeyear-old, too, and three step-children, who stay with her for the summer months. Her husband is employed parttime as a truck driver, and she used to work part-time as a receptionist. Since she is not a single mother, she is not eligible in Texas for Aid to Families with Dependent Children, but she is applying for food stamps until the three older children go back to school. “They do eat,” she says. They are 15, 13, and 11 She assesses the President’s term without malice because whatever problems she sees she doesn’t blame on him. But “it seems like things are harder now since he took office,” she says. “I know we are feeling the crunch. Things are supposed to be better, but we are feeling it in every way.” She wants it understood that she doesn’t spend her money lavishly. -I think I do manage our money pretty well, what little money we got. I go to a lot of thrift shops, you know, and you can get a lot of really good things there. But my kids dress just as well as anybody else’s. You can’t tell the clothes even came from a thrift shop.” The Rev. Sam Jenkins runs a free lunch program for senior citizens in Houston’s Fourth Ward. Actually, it isn’t a free lunch patrons buy a coupon for forty cents. “or whatever you can pay,” says one man. Most of the seniors look in a bad way, rumpled and tired. But one man looks younger, in his fifties, and able-bodied. He refuses to give his name, but he gives freely of his opinions, and there is some bitterness to them. “A man ain’t got no business living like this, in a country of plenty,” he says. He’s been in Houston 42 years and until last October 7. he says, he was a heavy equipment operator. Now he’s getting by on “picking up little odds and ends.” As far as he can see, things aren’t getting any better. “If it’s better, why are all these men standing around and not working?” `It’s the masses of people that are suffering,” he says. As for the President, “he takes care of his class of people, the rich. When you go mistreating the working class of people, somethin’ down the road is gonna happen. I don’t know what it is. But the workin’ man. he’s the backbone of this country. Rich man don’t do nothing but sit up there and rake. it in. If there wouldn’t be no poor folks, there wouldn’t be no rich folks.” The Houston Interfaith Hunger Coalition helps run 101 food pantries around the city, most of them sponsored by church congregations. The pantries provided emergency food for 70,000 people last year, according to Rina Rosenberg, director of the coalition. 8 AUGUST 17, 1984
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