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Michael Briggs (202) 224-5141
A group of senators today urged President Barack Obama to spare Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in the budget blueprint that he will submit to Congress on March 4.
A letter written by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and signed by 15 other senators praised the president for improving the economy and creating jobs while reducing the deficit. In making the case against cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, however, the senators expressed concerns about retirement insecurity, growing income inequality and rising poverty.
The White House spending plan submitted to Congress one year ago proposed a cut in Social Security benefits. The president's misguided overture to congressional Republicans would have cut future payments to retirees and disabled veterans by changing how the consumer price index is calculated. This year, the senators wrote to Obama, "We respectfully urge you not to propose cutting Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid benefits in your fiscal year 2015 budget."
In the letter delivered to the White House today, the senators said retirement insecurity is as great as ever. Only 1 in 5 private sector workers is covered by a defined benefit pension plan. Half of Americans have less than $10,000 in savings. And two-thirds of seniors rely on Social Security for a majority of their income.
The senators also emphasized that Social Security has not contributed to the deficit. In fact, the retirement system's $2.7 trillion surplus can pay all benefits owed to every eligible American for the next 19 years.
The senators also stressed the importance of Social Security in reducing poverty. Before Social Security, about half of our seniors lived in poverty. Today, senior poverty is down to 9.1 percent. Without Social Security, one-third of senior citizens would have virtually no earnings at all.
In addition to preserving Social Security, the senators told Obama that they oppose shifting health care costs onto senior citizens, the poor, and the disabled by cutting Medicare and Medicaid benefits.
"Mr. President: These are tough times for our country. With the middle class struggling and more people living in poverty than ever before, we urge you not to propose cuts in your budget ... which would make life even more difficult for some of the most vulnerable people in America. We look forward to working with you in support of the needs of the elderly, the children, the sick and the poor - and all working Americans," the letter concluded.
Sanders is a senior member of the Senate Budget Committee and the founder of the Senate's Defending Social Security Caucus. His letter also was signed by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.) Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Al Franken (D-Minn.) Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).
United States Senator for Vermont(202) 224-5141
"The great contradiction of this debt ceiling deal is that, while poverty is the fourth-leading cause of death, this deal will make it harder to get food stamps but easier to spend money on war."
Hundreds of thousands of older Americans could soon be at risk of losing federal food aid and falling deeper into poverty due to a provision of the new debt ceiling agreement that expands work requirements in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, a change that comes as food banks across the United States are seeing demand surge.
The deal that the Biden White House reached with House Republicans over the weekend would broaden the age range of SNAP recipients required to perform a certain amount of work or employment training each week. Under current law, SNAP recipients between the ages of 18 and 49 who don't have dependents and are deemed able-bodied must demonstrate that they are working or taking part in work training for at least 20 hours a week to continue receiving benefits.
People who don't meet the work requirements are often limited to just three months of SNAP benefits every three years—a time limit that was suspended during the Covid-19 pandemic but is now returning, putting millions at risk of losing aid.
The debt ceiling agreement, if approved by Congress, would raise the work requirement age ceiling to 54, a change that anti-hunger activists say builds on a punitive policy that has proven ineffective at boosting employment. The deal's work requirement expansion will sunset in 2030.
Republicans were adamant that the agreement include additional work requirements for recipients of SNAP and other aid programs for poor Americans, even as their party worked to shield wealthy tax cheats and pile more money into the Pentagon's coffers.
"The great contradiction of this debt ceiling deal is that, while poverty is the fourth-leading cause of death, this deal will make it harder to get food stamps but easier to spend money on war," said Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People's Campaign.
Luis Guardia, president of the Food Research and Action Center, warned Monday that the new rules "will only deepen hunger and poverty" for older adults who are unemployed or underemployed. Most adult SNAP recipients work, but their jobs are often highly precarious and low-paying.
"Cutting off food for people unless they document sufficient hours of work does not improve their chances to secure family-sustaining wages, but does increase their food hardship," said Guardia. "Food is a basic human right and should not have a time limit. The most meaningful, effective, and equitable relief is to pass H.R. 1510 for a permanent end to SNAP time limits on all groups."
"This provision ignores the strong evidence that it takes food assistance away from large numbers of people without increasing employment or earnings."
Advocates fear that an expansion of SNAP work requirements and the debt ceiling agreement's caps on federal spending will compound the nation's growing hunger crisis. A recent Feeding America survey found that a majority of U.S. food banks reported growing demand in March following the termination of an emergency SNAP benefit expansion enacted in the early stages of the pandemic.
SNAP recipients now receive around $6 a day per person on average, leaving many struggling to afford enough food—particularly as prices remain elevated.
The White House has touted the debt limit deal's exemption of veterans and people who are homeless from SNAP work requirements, but policy analysts said that doesn't justify imposing the mandates on others.
Sharon Parrott, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said the new SNAP work rules would put "hundreds of thousands of older adults aged 50-54 at risk of losing food assistance, including a large number of women."
"Doubling down on the existing, failed SNAP work-reporting requirement for adults aged 18-49 without children, this provision ignores the strong evidence that it takes food assistance away from large numbers of people without increasing employment or earnings," said Parrott.
"A large share of low-income adults in this age range are in poor health; many of them will lose basic assistance they need to buy groceries because they aren't able to meet the work-reporting requirement; and the exemption system, notoriously laden with red tape, won't work," she continued. "Decades of experience under the existing policy shows that many of those whose SNAP benefits are taken away should have been exempt. Those newly at risk of losing food assistance have very low incomes, typically well below the poverty line, and will be pushed even deeper into poverty when they lose SNAP."
Progressive lawmakers expressed outrage at the GOP's proposed work requirements during the negotiation process, but it's unclear if they will oppose the debt ceiling legislation because of the rules included in the final agreement.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said Sunday that SNAP work requirements are "absolutely terrible policy."
"I think it is really unfortunate that the president opened the door to this," Jayapal added.
"This is a desperately dark day for LGBTI rights and for Uganda," said Amnesty International's deputy regional director for East and Southern Africa.
Human rights defenders around the world on Monday condemned Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni after he signed a bill criminalizing same-sex sexual acts between consenting adults and imposing the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality."
Museveni, who is 78 and has ruled the African nation for nearly four decades, signed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2023, under which people convicted of "aggravated homosexuality"—that is, same-sex sexual acts by HIV-positive people or with children, disabled people, or anyone deemed vulnerable—can be hanged to death. The law punishes same-sex acts with life imprisonment and attempted same-sex acts with 10 years behind bars. It also criminalizes the "promotion" of LGBTQ+ rights.
The bill was initially rejected by Museveni last month because he wanted it amended to include a "rehabilitation" option for LGBTQ+ people who "would like to live normal lives again," according to a presidential spokesperson. The legislation builds on a 2013 law under which life imprisonment was the most severe penalty for same-sex relations. Museveni has said that he finds gay people "disgusting."
"Despite our concerted efforts to stop the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, the president today has legalized state-sponsored homophobia and transphobia by signing this bill into law," Frank Mugisha, executive director of the advocacy group Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), said in a statement.
"It will erode the rights of LGBTIQ individuals and put innocent Ugandans at crosshairs of grave violations from state and nonstate actors," Mugisha added. "We now look forward to the legal challenge in court, and the law being repealed."
Hours after Museveni signed the bill into law, 11 opponents including Ugandan parliamentary lawmaker Fox Odoi-Oywelowo petitioned the Constitutional Court seeking to block its implementation, the Monitorreports.
\u201cJoint statement by the leaders of the @GlobalFund, UNAIDS and @PEPFAR on #Uganda\u2019s Anti-Homosexuality Act 2023. \n\nRead statement - https://t.co/1xkDKdm2f5\u201d— UNAIDS (@UNAIDS) 1685348829
Amnesty International deputy regional director for East and Southern Africa Flavia Mwangovya said in a statement that "this is a desperately dark day for LGBTI rights and for Uganda."
"The signing of this deeply repressive law is a grave assault on human rights and the constitution of Uganda and the regional and international human rights instruments to which Uganda is a part," she continued.
"The Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2023 will do nothing other than enshrine discrimination, hatred, and prejudice against LGBTI Ugandans and their allies into law," Mwangovya added. "It's unconscionable that they risk losing their lives, their freedom, their privacy, their freedom of expression, and their ability to live free from discrimination."
The United Nations Human Rights Council tweeted: "We are appalled that the draconian and discriminatory anti-gay bill is now law. It is a recipe for systematic violations of the rights of LGBT people and the wider population. It conflicts with the [Ugandan] Constitution and international treaties and requires urgent judicial review."
\u201c"I am deeply concerned about the consequences of Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Act 2023. This law violates basic human rights and sets a dangerous precedent for discrimination and persecution against the LGBTQ+ community. Let us stand together in solidarity and fight against\u2026\u201d— Steven Kabuye (@Steven Kabuye) 1685348680
Josep Borrell, the European Union's high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, called the new law "contrary to international human rights law and to Uganda's obligations under the African Charter on Human and People's Rights, including commitments on dignity and nondiscrimination, and the prohibition of cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment."
In the United States—which gives Uganda about $1 billion in annual assistance—President Joe Biden said in a statement that "the enactment of Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Act is a tragic violation of universal human rights."
"I join with people around the world—including many in Uganda—in calling for its immediate repeal," Biden continued. "No one should have to live in constant fear for their life or being subjected to violence and discrimination. It is wrong."
\u201c\ud835\udc01\ud835\udc2b\ud835\udc1e\ud835\udc1a\ud835\udc24\ud835\udc22\ud835\udc27\ud835\udc20: President @JoeBiden has asked the National Security Council to evaluate the effects of the enactment of Uganda\u2019s Anti-Homosexuality Act and reevaluate annual $1 billion aid to Uganda.\n\n\u201cI have directed my National Security Council to evaluate the implications of\u2026\u201d— Remmy Bahati (@Remmy Bahati) 1685383924
"This shameful act is the latest development in an alarming trend of human rights abuses and corruption in Uganda," Biden asserted, adding that his administration is considering "sanctions and restriction of entry into the United States against anyone involved in serious human rights abuses or corruption."
Ugandan Parliamentary Speaker Anita Among said her U.S. visa had been revoked.
Even some congressional Republicans—some of whom back anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in the United States—condemned the new Ugandan law, including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who called it "grotesque and an abomination."
\u201cUganda\u2019s President has signed this anti-gay legislation into law. Canada\u2019s stance has not changed: This law is appalling and abhorrent, and we strongly condemn it. We\u2019ll continue to stand with 2SLGBTQI+ people \u2013 and stand up for 2SLGBTQI+ rights \u2013 at home and abroad.\u201d— Justin Trudeau (@Justin Trudeau) 1685393570
Same-sex sexual acts were already illegal in Uganda—one of around 30 African and 60 world nations that criminalize such acts— under the 2013 law and legislation passed during colonization by Britain. Prior to colonization's imported homophobia, Uganda had a history of tolerating sexual diversity, including among the Baganda—the country's largest ethnic group—and Lango, who recognize a third gender, the mudoko dako. King Mwanda II, who ruled the Baganda people in the 1880s, was famously bisexual.
Right-wing evangelical Christians from the United States have played a key role in the introduction of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in African nations.
\u201cFoiled in the United States, anti-gay evangelicals spread hate in Africa: http://t.co/5igFdIhF7z\u201d— Mother Jones (@Mother Jones) 1373455859
Attacks on LGBTQ+ rights and people—including the murders of activists including David Kato and Brian Wasswa—have increased in Uganda this century.
Mugisha said the new law will "bring a lot of harm" to Uganda's already persecuted LGBTQ+ community.
"We feel so, so, so worried," he toldAgence-France Presse.
"This report makes it clear: We must act now to save lives, help people adapt to a changing climate, and ultimately prevent famine," said the World Food Program chief. "If we don't, the results will be catastrophic."
As El Niño looms and fighting in Sudan rages on, a pair of United Nations agencies on Monday warned that "acute food insecurity is likely to deteriorate further in 18 hunger hot spots" across 22 countries from June to November.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Program (WFP) delivered that warning in a joint report.
"Afghanistan, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen remain at the highest concern level," the report states. "Haiti, the Sahel (Burkina Faso and Mali), and the Sudan have been elevated to the highest concern levels; this is due to severe movement restrictions of people and goods in Haiti, as well as in Burkina Faso and Mali, and the recent eruption of conflict in the Sudan."
"Pakistan, the Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Syrian Arab Republic are hot spots with very high concern, and the warning is also extended to Myanmar," the publication continues. "Lebanon, El Salvador, and Nicaragua have been added to the list of hunger hot spot countries, since the September 2022 edition. Malawi, Guatemala, and Honduras remain hunger hot spot countries."
\u201c\ud83d\udd34 Acute food insecurity set to worsen in 18 #HungerHotspots across 22 countries - \ud83c\udd95 @FAO @WFP report warns.\n\nBurkina Faso, Haiti, Mali, the Sudan have been elevated to the highest alert level to join Afghanistan, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan & Yemen.\n\n\ud83d\udc49https://t.co/0BDI7Eg8aT\u201d— FAO Newsroom (@FAO Newsroom) 1685352200
The document stresses that worsening conditions in the hot spots occur in the context of a "global food crisis," so "the countries and situations covered in this report highlight the most significant deteriorations of hunger expected in the outlook period" but do not represent all nations facing high levels of acute food insecurity.
"Conflict will disrupt livelihoods—including agricultural activities and commercial trade—as people are either directly attacked or flee the prospect of attacks, or face movement restrictions and administrative impediments," the report states. "New emerging conflicts, in particular the eruption of conflict in the Sudan, will likely drive global conflict trends and impact several neighboring countries."
"The use of explosive ordnance and siege tactics in several hunger hot spots continues to push people into catastrophic levels of acute food insecurity," the document adds, "highlighting the critical role of humanitarian access in preventing the worst outcomes of hunger."
The new report notably came as the WFP announced that on Saturday, six weeks since the fighting broke out in Sudan—displacing nearly 1.4 million people—the U.N. program was able to begin distributing food assistance to the thousands affected by the conflict in and around the capital Khartoum.
"This is a major breakthrough. We have finally been able to help families who are stuck in Khartoum and struggling to make it through each day as food and basic supplies dwindle," said Eddie Rowe, WFP's country director in Sudan, in a statement.
"We have been working round-the-clock to reach people in Khartoum since the fighting began," Rowe added. "A window opened late last week which allowed us to start food distributions. WFP must do more, but that depends on the parties to the conflict and the security and access they realistically guarantee on the ground."
\u201c\ud83c\udd95BREAKTHROUGH: The first distributions of WFP food assistance took place in #Khartoum, Sudan for thousands of people trapped since fighting broke out six weeks ago. \n\nThe distributions come in the last days of a ceasefire set to expire Monday.\u201d— World Food Programme (@World Food Programme) 1685382400
Along with armed conflict, drivers of the deterioration in the report's focal regions include economic issues and the climate emergency. The publication points out that last year, "economic risks were driving hunger in more countries than conflict was," and "the global economy is expected to slow down in 2023—amid monetary tightening in advanced economies—increasing the cost of credit."
"Weather extremes, such as heavy rains, tropical storms, cyclones, flooding, drought, and increased climate variability, remain significant drivers in some countries and regions," the document explains, noting that experts anticipate El Niño conditions—or the warming of sea surface temperatures across the tropical Pacific Ocean—in the months ahead, "with significant implications for several hunger hot spots."
The report emphasizes that "urgent and scaled‑up assistance" in all hot spots "is essential to avert a further deterioration of acute food insecurity and malnutrition," and in some cases, "humanitarian actions are critical in preventing further starvation and death."
\u201cHUNGER HOTSPOTS: \n\n\ud83d\udd34A new report warns urgent assistance is required to protect lives and livelihoods and increase access to food.\n\n\ud83d\udd34The report identifies 18 regions where people are at the most risk of extreme hunger and malnutrition.\n\n\ud83d\udd17https://t.co/HOFGtpjJ5i\u201d— World Food Programme (@World Food Programme) 1685355300
Agency leaders echoed the publication's call to action. Cindy McCain, WFP's executive director, said in a statement that "not only are more people in more places around the world going hungry, but the severity of the hunger they face is worse than ever."
"This report makes it clear: Ae must act now to save lives, help people adapt to a changing climate, and ultimately prevent famine," McCain declared. "If we don't, the results will be catastrophic."
FAO's director-general, Qu Dongyu, stressed that "business-as-usual pathways are no longer an option in today's risk landscape if we want to achieve global food security for all, ensuring that no one is left behind."
"We need to provide immediate time-sensitive agricultural interventions to pull people from the brink of hunger, help them rebuild their lives, and provide long-term solutions to address the root causes of food insecurity," he said. "Investing in disaster risk reduction in the agriculture sector can unlock significant resilience dividends and must be scaled up."