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In the Real World Republican Budget Cuts Have Increased Hunger, Poverty and Sickness

Consequentialism is the class of normative ethical theories holding that the consequences of one’s conduct are the ultimate basis for judgment about the rightness of that conduct. Thus, a morally right act (or omission from acting) is one that will produce a good outcome and is commonly summarized as “the ends justify the means.” Republicans have attempted to  convince Americans that it is morally right to cut funding for domestic programs that serve the elderly, children, and the poor because it produces a good outcome of shrinking the government, and teaches them there are consequences for getting old, being poor, and working for low wages. Republicans have had a measure of success persuading their supporters that the pursuit of smaller government justifies cutting domestic programs that serve vulnerable Americans, and validate the devastating consequences of the their actions by portraying the poor, children, and seniors as moochers robbing America of its wealth.

The one thing Republicans never talk about when making devastating cuts to safety nets are the real world consequences to the people their cuts impact. No Republican stands on the floor of the House or Senate and says they need to cut billions from the food stamp program and the result will be that 48 million Americans will have significantly less food to eat and go hungry, or that not extending unemployment benefits means 1.3 million Americans lose the lifeline keeping them from falling into dire poverty. It is much easier to dehumanize the cuts as much-needed deficit reduction, or reining in the size of government to prevent it from robbing Americans’ tax dollars and preventing job creators from recording higher profits that might encourage them to hire more workers. However, there are human consequences in Republicans’ harsh austerity that is keeping Americans hungry, homeless, and sick and still, Republicans have fought tooth and nail to make deeper cuts and keep their precious sequester in place.

The sequester is directly responsible for increased hunger, homelessness, and sickness among the poor, but there is little mention of its effects that are literally killing Americans. Last month it was reported that sequester cuts were killing homeless Americans forced to live on the streets in freezing winter weather due to cuts to the Section 8 housing assistance program. Over the weekend, sequester cuts to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) that assists low income households meet their home energy needs were responsible for deaths of three children in the Midwest. LIHEAP particularly helps Americans with the lowest incomes that pay a high proportion of that income for home energy, especially for heating during the winter months.

The three children lived in Hammond, Indiana where most residents were able to keep the bitter cold at bay by turning up their heat to stay warm against freezing temperatures. That was not the case for Andre Young’s family whose rented house had been without electricity, gas, and water for 6 months, and had barely survived the frigid winter weather by using a propane space heater until January 8th. At about 10:30 that night witnesses said Young ran in to his burning rented house to rescue his five children and was successful saving a two-year-old and a six-year-old before he was burned seriously and collapsed in the snow. Another man attempted to kick down a door and save three remaining children aged four, three, and seven months, but he was unsuccessful. By the time first responders arrived they found the three and four-year-old in each other’s embrace and the seven-month old nearby; all three children perished.

Mr. Young, who works in lawn care, remains hospitalized in critical condition and his wife, a Walmart worker until recently, did not earn enough money to afford rent, food, and still make their utility payments. They were forced to choose food and shelter over heat, and the consequence of their choice was three dead children and a critically-burned father. It is likely that Republicans are still patting each other on the back for successfully implementing the sequester to “rein in spending” and “cut the size of government,” and look longingly forward to nine more years of austerity cuts with no regard for the costs in human terms.

In November, the National Energy Association Directors’ Alliance (NEADA) released a report citing the sequester had cut 330,000 poor families from energy assistance heading into the winter season. The report said the outlook for poor families during the heating season was grim with colder weather, higher energy costs, and declining purchasing power due to declining incomes and low wages. NEADA reported that the number of households receiving home heating assistance declined in fiscal year 2013, and noted that the sequester cuts were on top of severe cuts to the program since 2010. All told, nearly 1.5 million households lost heating assistance, and the outlook is especially bleak since the Energy Information Administration projected the average cost of home heating increased from $922 to $977 that leaves most Americans working for poverty wages with a choice of eating or staying warm. It is a choice forced on them by cruel Republicans and their precious life-ending sequester.

In the town the Young family lives, Hammond, money provided by the federal low-income energy assistance program (LIHEAP) is administered by the North Township Trustee and can give amounts between $100 and $500 starting in October to individuals and families living in poverty if funding is available. The Indiana utility, NIPSCO, confirmed Young was on some form of assistance, though it did not specify which kind, but with five children and rent to pay, it was likely food stamps that were cut two months ago on November 1st. An average household in Indiana house spends about $530 on heat between November and March which is significantly more than the assistance provided, and experts warned that the frigid weather from the “Polar Vortex,” coupled with devastating sequester cuts that have already reduced the amount of LIHEAP assistance available will push those on heating assistance to the limits of their budgets and force them to choose feeding their families or keeping them warm.

Republicans love boasting to their inhumane followers that “reining in spending” and “cutting the size of government” justifies their cuts that are killing poor Americans struggling to survive in poverty. One might be inclined to say the Young family’s tragedy is a cautionary tale of what dire consequences result from Republican austerity, but it is a stark reality that is recurring all across America with no apparent end in sight. Republicans are well-aware of the devastation their senseless and barbaric cuts are wreaking on the most vulnerable Americans and yet they are dissatisfied the damage is not severe enough or they would not continue panting to make deeper cuts to social safety nets.

The consequences of Republican austerity are the ultimate basis for judgment about the rightness of their conduct, and in human terms, their conduct is beyond wrong, it is inhumane, immoral, and sheer evil. Their jobs as legislators, according to the U.S. Constitution, is to provide for the general welfare of the people, and yet their standard practice is inflicting pain and suffering first on the most vulnerable Americans with more of their attention being shifted to the declining middle class. It is a sad state of affairs that Republicans would withhold heating assistance, food, and adequate housing from those who need it most and never acknowledge the consequences of their actions. As their austerity drives more Americans to choose between shelter, food, and heating in inclement weather, more poor Americans will opt to feed their families and use dangerous propane stoves to keep warm and suffer the deadly consequences of Republicans’ reining in spending and cutting the size of government.

 

 

 

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