“You don’t know what you have here in America, you know?” said the cabby who drove me home from the airport. When his father died in Ethiopia, he had to drop out of his American university where he was studying computer engineering to start driving cabs to support his family back in Ethiopia. Ethiopia has no social safety net.
“In America,” said my cab driver, “you have services and programs that help keep families together in hard times.” He hasn’t seen his family in nine years. His cab-drivers’ salary is hardly enough to pay for a plane ticket to Ethiopia. Besides, if he takes time off, that would be less food, education, and possible eviction for his mother, brothers and sisters.
While it is true that America has a social safety net, it is weaker than it was just forty years ago and it’s come under more intense attack in recent years. The deficit is the justification for shredding the net now. And extremists are pushing the party that claims a lock on “family values” to nullify the programs that protect at-risk American families from slipping into poverty.
In the name of “fiscal responsibility,” the Tea Party-led House GOP passed H.R. 1956, a bill that takes cash from the hands of America’s poorest working families in order to protect the richest of the rich. H.R. 1956 requires workers to present a Social Security Number rather than an IRS issued Individual Tax Identification Number to claim the child tax credit. Seems simple enough, but the bill is crafted to target working immigrant families the hardest, even if they are legal residents or have children that are American citizens. The GOP called this a compromise. H.R. 1956 is what they offered in return for the extension of the Payroll Tax cut. Congress could have paid for that extension by ending the Bush era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, which were set to expire on January 1, 2012. But the GOP said absolutely not. Instead, they crafted H.R. 1956.