by Marc Herstand, MSW, CISW
With the selection of Paul Ryan as the Republican Vice-Presidential candidate, the citizens have a very clear choice of different budgetary directions. As social workers we need to consider some of the following questions that relate to the federal budget.
What would be the impact on the welfare of our most vulnerable clients if Headstart was cut back, job training programs were reduced, rental assistance was slashed, energy assistance was cut back, the WIC program was reduced, programs for low income and disabled children were reduced, AmeriCorps was eliminated, Legal services for poor clients was eliminated, services for sexual assault and runaway youth were reduced, student loans were cut back, and Medicaid was made into a block grant program leading states to reduce enrollment and raise standards for eligibility?
How would a Medicaid block grant program affect the ability of seniors and people with disabilities to get nursing home care or other services?
If the Affordable Care Act was eliminated what would be the impact on low and moderate income clients who did not receive or could not afford health insurance through their employer?
If Medicare was made into a voucher program and seniors had to pay many thousands of dollars more than they would have under the traditional program, how would this impact the health and safety of senior citizens?
Budgets are political choices based upon values. Are our highest values keeping taxes low and providing only the bare minimal government services or doing whatever is necessary to provide assistance to the most needy? One of the core values of social work is social justice, which is described in the NASW Code of Ethics as follows, “Social workers pursue social change, particularly with and on behalf of vulnerable and oppressed individuals and groups of people. Social workers’ social change efforts are focused primarily on issues of poverty, unemployment, discrimination and forms of social injustice. These activities seek to promote sensitivity to and knowledge about oppression and cultural and diversity. Social workers strive to ensure access to needed information, services and resources; equality of opportunity; and meaningful participation in decision making for all people”
As social workers who understand the impact on our clients of cutbacks in health, education and social service programs, we have an obligation to speak out publicly. If politicians and the public are considering making a choice to drastically reduce services to the most needy in order to lower the deficit and lower taxes, primarily on the wealthy, they need to understand the consequences of their actions. In addition we need to make clear there are always different choices that can be made. You can lower the deficit by slashing programs that help low and moderate income families or you could selectively raise taxes (or eliminate tax loopholes and deductions) on corporations and wealthy individuals and reduce defense spending.
These choices should be articulated in the election campaign so that the public can make an informed decision when they enter the voting booth.