The Common Good

The Best Thing for the Economy, the Right Thing for the Poor

The economy and the nation are at a crossroads. Unemployment, poverty, and hardship are on the rise. For many years, official Washington has said, "It is not the time to deal with poverty," whether in good or bad economic times. The stars have now aligned in the midst of this economic crisis, and it is precisely the time to address the urgent issues of poverty in America.

First, economists across the political spectrum agree that the economy desperately needs to be stimulated by federal investment in things that will generate immediate economic activity and jobs. Second, the same analysts also agree that benefits to low-income families will result in immediate economic stimulation as people in distress will spend the money they receive because they have no other choice. In other words, directly helping vulnerable people works because it will quickly help stimulate the economy, and it's right because it will immediately help poor and vulnerable people. How often do we get to do what works and what's right at the same time?

At the heart of our religious traditions is the command to help the vulnerable and to have a bias for the poorest among us. The compromise the economic stimulus package agreed to in Congress yesterday takes some important steps in directly assisting poor and low-income people and stimulating the economy at the same time. Helping those who have fallen on hard times -- and helping states avert cuts in a range of critical services -- will do more to help the economy and create jobs than poorly targeted tax cuts.

The package includes some significant funding increases for food stamps, increasing and extending unemployment benefits, health insurance for unemployed workers, Medicaid, Head Start, the Child Care Development Block Grant, and fiscal relief for states to assist them in meeting their budget deficits without cutting needed social services. It expands the Earned Income Tax Credit, including marriage penalty relief, and considerably expands the Child Tax Credit. While not all of these were funded at the levels we might have hoped for, taken together they do represent significant assistance to those in need.

The economic forecasts are bleak and if unemployment reaches 9 percent, as many predict, the increases in poverty could be stunning. These provisions in the stimulus package all push against the rising tide of poverty and hardship. Economists have also concluded that they are among the most effective mechanisms for shoring up the flagging economy.

The final stimulus package takes an important step toward doing the best thing for the economy and the right thing for the poor.

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