The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has taken a hard look at the legislation passed by Congress last year implementing its deficit-reduction summit with the Reagan administration and come to the conclusion that, once again, the poor have gotten poorer.
Low-income programs that depend on annual appropriations, such as energy assistance for the poor, housing assistance and child welfare services, received $750 million
less in funding under the legisla- tion than the level needed to keep pace with inflation, according to the private group's study.
That result continues a trend during the Reagan years, in which funding for low-income programs has decreased from $62.8 billion to $38.1 billion, a drop of 54 percent after adjustment for inflation. The center's analysis does not include spending on entitlement programs such as Medicare and food stamps, which bestow benefits based on eligibility requirements set by permanent law rather than by annual appropriations.
The continued real decline in spending on discretionary low-income programs came despite an assertion by President Reagan and congressional leaders at the conclusion of last year's budget summit that "essential programs serving the poor, including the elderly, should be a priority" in the legislation needed to incorporate the agreement into law.
Robert Greenstein, director of the center -- an independent nonprofit group that conducts research on the effect of government policies on low- and moderate-income Americans -- said the summit's good intentions were not carried through when the House and Senate Appropriations committees distributed the discretionary domestic cuts called for by the agreement among the panel's 13 subcommittees.
"It's not that they cut low-income programs more than other discretionary programs this year . . . they just weren't protected," Greenstein said.
"By their nature, discretionary programs are more vulnerable than entitlement programs and low-income people are less organized and less politically potent . . . than other groups," Greenstein added.
"When you put the two together, you have the politically weakest combination even though you are talking about some of the greatest unmet needs," he said.
Among the programs hardest hit in last year's budget measures were:
The energy assistance program, which suffered a cut of 19.3 percent, from $1.8 billion in fiscal 1987 to $1.5 billion, about $367 million below what was needed to keep pace with inflation.
The emergency food and shelter program providing federal help
for homeless shelters and soup kitchens, which was cut 12.3 percent.
Operating subsidies for public housing, cut 8.4 percent.
Housing assistance for the elderly and handicapped, which was cut by 8.6 percent.
The center's study also shows the cumulative effect of spending reductions since fiscal 1981 on low-income programs, including an 81 percent cut in subsidized housing, a 68 percent cut in training and employment services and a 47 percent reduction in housing assistance for the elderly. All figures are adjusted for inflation.
And what of next year, when the $2.6 billion cut in domestic discretionary spending mandated by the summit in fiscal 1988 is increased to $3.4 billion?
"Low-income discretionary programs are likely to take another reduction in real terms unless some more vigorous effort is made to give them some sort of special protection," Greenstein predicted.