Grim Budget Looks Especially Bleak for Folks of Color

Policy experts say from prisons to social services, the folks who have the least can expect to lose the most.

By Shani O. Hilton Feb 25, 2011

While there are signs that Democrats and Republicans are seeking out a compromise on the budget in order to avoid a government shutdown, policy experts say that — no matter the compromise — people of color are going to suffer from the cuts.

Andrew Grant-Thomas, deputy director of the Kirwan Insitute at the Ohio State University, says the budget President Barack Obama offered last week has both cuts and increases in spending that are worrying.

There’s the home energy assistance cut, which has the obvious effect of adding financial burdens to those who can least afford it. But Grant-Thomas also points to the irony of increasing spending on prisons while reducing programs that would decrease crime and recidivism.

"We’re giving up the ghost on rehabilitation and prevention," Grant-Thomas says, noting that new prisons are being planned even as programs for ex-offenders are getting axed. Yet, he adds that conditions are right for higher incarceration: "Couple huge amounts of joblessness, with the lack of support for folks who really need it, and you’ll need a new prison."

Currently the unemployment rate for black men is at 16.5 percent (more than double the rate for white men), while for Latino men it’s 13 percent.

"It’s all very depressing," Grant-Thomas says. "There are so many ways to assess the budget from a social justice perspective." But, he says, the difficulty comes in comparing "the substantive stuff to the political realities. I’m sure we in general don’t appreciate the political constraints [Obama] has, but we have to account for a very serious economic situation."

Rebecca Thiess at the Economic Policy Institute agrees. The resolution the GOP-run House passed last Friday before heading into recess is many times worse than what Obama has proposed, she says.

The House proposal includes $61 billion in cuts in discretionary spending — that is, money that is goes to critical social programs like the Head Start. "That’s not an incredible amount of money compared to the deficit, but it is an incredible amount of money," Thiess says. She suggests it’s a sign that Republicans are more interested in playing politics than reducing the budget.

Thiess also points out that while the president put out the budget, the real battle is going to happen between the Republican House and the Democratic Senate as they hammer out the details of a continuing resolution to fund the government. "We will see [Democrats] cave and move to the right," though certainly not as far as the House is pushing.

And her prediction seems to be coming true, since reports suggest Democratic senators are currently looking for additional cuts.

Calling the situation "grim," Grant-Thomas says this is expected. "It feels to me that the budget he proposed is the compromise position. So the actual compromise reached will be more draconian still."