House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) unveiled his 2012 budget proposal on Tuesday, and African-American lawmakers are reacting with a variety of emotions that range from anger to horror, with a little bit of disbelief thrown in for good measure.
Freshman Democrat Karen Bass of California called Ryan’s plan “a radical agenda that would absolutely devastate the most vulnerable in our community.”
The proposed Path to Prosperity budget would repeal the Affordable Care Act, reduce Medicaid funding and turn it into a community development block grant program and privatize Medicare. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation report, 21 percent of non-elderly Blacks were Medicaid beneficiaries in 2008–2009. Children are some of the program’s biggest beneficiaries, and it pays for examinations by specialists that underage parents, like those on 16 and Pregnant and Teen Moms, for example, would otherwise never be able to afford.
Under Ryan’s plan, Medicaid beneficiaries would have to bear increased medical fees and access to costly specialists would be limited. African-American children suffer disproportionately from pre-existing conditions, such as asthma or diabetes, that often require special care.
It also places an increased financial burden on the elderly, who will have to pay more for less. Today when seniors get sick, they go to the doctor and Medicare foots the bill. Under Ryan’s plan, the government would provide vouchers to private insurers that would then pay for what would essentially be fewer benefits at a higher cost.
The budget also would reduce Pell Grants to 2008 levels, which means it would not include recent increases to the grant awards. Without this federal financial aid assistance, hundreds of thousands of African-American students would be unable to attend college. It also would make job training programs more like a voucher program.
“Ryan is essentially talking about eliminating them or consolidating them to give scholarships to people,” Bass said. “Well, scholarships sound wonderful, but we all know there’s a lot more that goes in to job training programs than just a check.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland), a member of the Joint Economic Committee, he’s concerned that the budget would hit poor people and African-American people very hard.”
If Medicaid is turned into a block grant, “anything could happen to those funds” if health care isn’t a governor’s priority, Cummings said, and few insurance companies will jump at the opportunity to provide coverage to an elderly person with a pre-existing condition who turns up with a voucher in hand.
“I don’t understand what they’re trying to do,” he said. “It makes no sense.”
But what really galls the Maryland Democrat is that the budget doesn’t even consider going after royalties that many lawmakers argue oil companies should be paying the U.S. government, which would bring in billions of dollars in revenues. The American public needs to pay very close attention to the budget’s proposals and their potential impact, he warned.
“I think people sometimes look at these programs and say, “Oh, it’s so far to the right; that will never happen,’” Cummings said. “Well, guess what? In this climate it can.”
(Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)