The Controversial “Safety Net” (1981 to 2012)

photo by Li'l Wolf via Flickr

Over the past several decades, the usage and connotation of the term ‘safety net’ has changed, but the need has only increased. The ‘safety net’ encompasses various programs, such as Medicaid for children and families, Medicare for the elderly, Food Stamp Programs and more. The National Coalition for the Homeless has always been in support of safety net services as vital resources for preventing and ending homelessness, and giving our neighbors the dignity to feed and care for themselves and their families. NCH’s support of the safety net is best illustrated through our newsletter, Safety Network, which was sent out from 1981 through 2006. Although the name for the newsletter was chosen based off former president Ronald Reagan’s quote on the safety net, the usage and attitude towards the safety net has undoubtedly transformed over the past few decades, as demonstrated by the quotes below.

When he announced his budget proposals Feb. 18, in an address to a joint session of Congress, President Reagan declared: ”We will continue to fulfill the obligations that spring from our national conscience. Those who through no fault of their own must depend on the rest of us, the poverty-stricken, the disabled, the elderly, all those with true need, can rest assured that the social safety net of programs they depend on are exempt from any cuts.”   President Ronald Reagan, February, 1981.

Former U.S.  Rep. Cynthia McKinney, Green Party Presidential Candidate 2008, at a Citizen’s Commission on 9/11, stated that “this time, not just for supporting me, but also for not being bamboozled into submission by questionable insider backroom characters who want to take away our freedoms, send our children off to war, and rip to shreds the social safety net for the American people.” September 2004.

President Barack Obama, during his senator years, said that “Privatization is not something that I would consider. And the reason is this: Social Security is the floor. That’s the baseline. Social Security is that safety net that can’t be frayed and that we shouldn’t put at risk.” July 2007

Ron Paul, Republican Presidential Nominee, is opposed to the safety net. He thinks that “it does work for some people, but overall it ultimately fails, because you spend more money than you have, and then you borrow to the hilt. Now we have to borrow $800 billion a year just to keep the safety net going. It’s going to collapse when the dollar collapses, you can’t even fight the war without this borrowing. And when the dollar collapses, you can’t take care of the elderly of today. They’re losing ground. Their cost of living is going up about 10%, even though the government denies it, we give them a 2% cost of living increase.”  Newsweek interview by Howard Fineman, December 2007.

“For people who have for been putting their hard-earned money into the system for years, the president’s idea would replace their safety net with a risky gamble with no assurance of a stable return of investment.” – U.S. Rep. Grace Napolitano  for California’s 38th congressional district March 2009.

 “I understand that during this financial crisis, when countless numbers of our family members, neighbors, colleagues, and friends have seen their retirement savings disappear, the safety net of Social Security is more important than ever. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that next year, for the first time since 1975, beneficiaries will not get a cost of living adjustment. I support emergency measures to ensure that beneficiaries receive a cost of living increase, ensuring that social security’s promises are kept. As Senator, I will fight to keep the promise of Social Security and preserve it for future generations. I am committed to ensuring that benefits are not reduced, and that those paying into the system now will be guaranteed their benefits later.”  -Martha Cloakey, Democratic nominee from MA for special election in the Senate and current Attorney General of MA, December 2009.

“Democrats know that the simple math of health care will eventually shred the social safety net they seek to protect.’” National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), Washington Post, June 2011.

California U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, former chairwoman of the Progressive Caucus, said she has faith in Obama’s ability to cut a fair deal, but when asked about potential cuts to Medicaid, Lee said, “No, you can’t cut that.” “That’s a safety net, really,” Lee told POLITICO.  – U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, U.S. Representative for California’s 9th congressional district, June 2011.

“Social Security is America’s social safety net for the elderly and disabled. The program was enacted in 1935 in the midst of the Great Depression as part of the New Deal. While it initially sparked controversy, it has over seven decades proved to be a success, providing needed benefits to millions of Americans in need and serving as a source of retirement income for America’s middle class.” – Republican Texas Governor Rick Perry’s Proposal to turn Social Security over to the States, from White Paper, September 2011.

“I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there,” Romney told CNN. “If it needs repair, I’ll fix it. I’m not concerned about the very rich, they’re doing just fine. I’m concerned about the very heart of the America, the 90 percent, 95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling.” Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney, January 2012

“What the poor need is a trampoline so they can spring up, so I am for replacing the safety net with a trampoline.” – Republican Presidential Candidate Newt Gingrich, February 2012.

Republican U.S. Rep. Allen West (FL) is disturbed that food stamps buy much more than food these days.  “I happened to drive by a gas station in Pompano Beach, Fla., in the heart of Congressional District 22, the district I represent.  In front of the gas station were large banners proclaiming, ‘We accept EBT SNAP cards.’  This is not something we should be proud to promote,” the Florida Republican said.  “Now we see a growing number of businesses in this country, including sit-down and fast food restaurants, standalone and gas station convenience markets, and even pharmacies eager to accept SNAP benefits, Rep. West observed.  “The measure of success for our social safety net programs should be that fewer and fewer Americans must rely on them, not more and more,” he added.  – Washington Times April 2012.

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