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4. Hunger and Homelessness Increasing in the US

Sources:

The New Standard, December 2005
Title: “New Report Shows Increase in Urban Hunger, Homelessness”
Author: Brendan Coyne

OneWorld.net, March, 2006
Title: “US Plan to Eliminate Survey of Needy Families Draws Fire “
Author: Abid Aslam

Faculty Evaluator: Myrna Goodman
Student Researcher: Arlene Ward and Brett Forest

The number of hungry and homeless people in U.S. cities continued to grow in 2005, despite claims of an improved economy. Increased demand for vital services rose as needs of the most destitute went unmet, according to the annual U.S. Conference of Mayors Report, which has documented increasing need since its 1982 inception.

The study measures instances of emergency food and housing assistance in twenty-four U.S. cities and utilizes supplemental information from the U.S. Census and Department of Labor. More than three-quarters of cities surveyed reported increases in demand for food and housing, especially among families. Food aid requests expanded by 12 percent in 2005, while aid center and food bank resources grew by only 7 percent. Service providers estimated 18 percent of requests went unattended. Housing followed a similar trend, as a majority of cities reported an increase in demand for emergency shelter, often going unmet due to lack of resources.

As urban hunger and homelessness increases in America, the Bush administration is planning to eliminate a U.S. survey widely used to improve federal and state programs for low-income and retired Americans, reports Abid Aslam.
President Bush’s proposed budget for fiscal 2007, which begins October 2006, includes a Commerce Department plan to eliminate the Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP). The proposal marks at least the third White House attempt in as many years to do away with federal data collection on politically prickly economic issues.

Founded in 1984, the Census Bureau survey follows American families for a number of years and monitors their use of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Social Security, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, child care, and other health, social service, and education programs.

Some 415 economists and social scientists signed a letter and sent it to Congress, shortly after the February release of Bush’s federal budget proposal, urging that the survey be fully funded as it “is the only large-scale survey explicitly designed to analyze the impact of a wide variety of government programs on the well being of American families.”

Heather Boushey, economist at the Washington, D.C.–based Center for Economic and Policy Research told Abid Aslam, “We need to know what the effects of these programs are on American families . . . SIPP is designed to do just that.”

Boushey added that the survey has proved invaluable in tracking the effects of changes in government programs. So much so that the 1996 welfare reform law specifically mentioned the survey as the best means to evaluate the law’s effectiveness.

Supporters of the survey elimination say the program costs too much at $40 million per year. They would kill it in September and eventually replace it with a scaled-down version that would run to $9.2 million in development costs during the coming fiscal year. Actual data collection would begin in 2009.

Defenders of the survey counter that the cost is justified as SIPP “provides a constant stream of in-depth data that enables government, academic, and independent researchers to evaluate the effectiveness and improve the efficiency of several hundred billion dollars in spending on social programs,” including homeless shelters and emergency food aid.

UPDATE BY ABID ASLAM

As of the end of May 2006, hundreds of economists and social scientists remain engaged in a bid to save the U.S. Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP). Ideologically diverse users describe the survey as pioneering and say it has helped to improve the uptake and performance of, and to gauge the effects on American families of changes in public provisions ranging from Medicaid to Temporary Assistance to Needy Families and school lunch programs.

A few journalists took notice because users of the data, including the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), which spearheaded the effort to save SIPP, chose to make some noise.By most accounts, the matter was a simple fight over money: the administration was out to cut any hint of flesh from bureaucratic budgets (perhaps to feed its foreign policy pursuits) but users of the survey wanted the money spent on SIPP because, in their view, the program is valuable and no feasible alternative exists or has been proposed.

That debate remains to be resolved. Lobbyists expect more legislative action in June and among them, CEPR remains available to provide updates.But is it just an isolated budget fight? This is the third time in as many years that the Bush administration has tried—and in the previous two cases, failed under pressure from users and advocates—to strip funding for awkward research. In 2003, it had tried to kill the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Mass Layoff Statistics report, which detailed where workplaces with more than fifty employees closed and what kinds of workers were affected. In 2004 and 2005, it had attempted to drop questions on the hiring and firing of women from employment data collected by the BLS. Hardly big-ticket items on the federal budget, the mass layoffs reports provided federal and state social service agencies with data crucial for planning even as it chronicled job losses and the so-called “jobless recovery.” The women’s questionnaire uncovered employment discrimination.

In other words, SIPP and the BLS programs are politically prickly. They highlight that, regardless of what some politicians and executives might say, economic and social problems persist and involve real people whose real needs remain to be met. This calls to mind the old line about there being three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics. To be convincing, they must be broadly consistent. If the numbers don’t support the narrative, something simply must give. With the livelihoods, life chances, and rights of millions of citizens at stake, these are more than stories about arcane budget wrangles.

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