The First Cut is the Deepest

Cut government spending?

By Karen Dolan

House partisans, led by House Republican Whip, Eric Cantor, turn American Idol-style voter participation into an obscene game with potentially devastating consequences. The recently launched "You Cut" program aims to cut – and deeply — Americans suffering from the recession, unemployment, illness and single parenthood.

The alarm bells have been ringing so long, it seems that politicians of all stripes, media and many members of the public are deaf to the sound, even as the din increased exponentially during the Great Recession of 2008 through today. In a collaborative report by the Institute for Policy Studies, The Center for Community Change, Jobs With Justice and Legal Momentum, we reported nearly 50 million impoverished in the U.S. in 2008, with numbers rising as the recession grinds on for most of us. Almost one in four US children are hungry. The unemployment rate is about 17% when discouraged and underemployed workers are assessed. Over 1.3 million U.S. children are homeless.

Yet, inexplicably, House Republicans have chosen to make our tattered Social Safety Net into a game. Chock full of ideological misrepresentations, the site "You Cut" asks its followers to vote on which federal programs should get the ax in the federal budgetary funding process. Flaunted as the “First Winning Cut,” is $2.5 billion in proposed TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) Emergency Fund money. Says the site:  This program was recently created to incentivize states to increase their welfare caseloads without requiring able-bodied adults to work, get job training, or otherwise prepare to move off of taxpayer assistance.

Poppycock. Or some similar expletive.  The TANF Emergency Fund was created under the Recovery Act so that struggling states could help their struggling families weather the recession. It is a temporary program, aimed at helping our nation’s safety net to function as a necessary buffer from impoverishment. As states see their unemployment rates rise and, subsequently, the numbers of families living in poverty and near-poverty conditions, this Emergency Fund helps with: basic assistance for families in the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) safety net program; short-term, one-time aid for needy families; and, importantly, for subsidized employment programs, paying or subsidizing wages of eligible workers. 

Income Security and Family Support Subcommittee Chairman Representative Jim McDermott (D-WA) reports that the TANF Emergency Fund is expected to create 185,000 jobs for eligible people struggling to find work. He disputes the “incentivization” claim at the core of the “You Cut” justification for eliminating this program. McDermott points out that the Emergency Fund program requires strapped states to pay for every new person served and thus there can be no incentivization to increase caseloads.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities affirms that the TANF Emergency Fund does not in anyway incentivize an increase in caseloads nor undercut welfare reform, as the “You Cut” propaganda asserts. It explains, in a recent publication, that TANF recipients remain fully subject to all the stringent work requirements of the TANF program. One could argue that these requirements make no sense whatsoever during this time of high unemployment, but the TANF Emergency Fund does not alter this unfortunate reality. 

So, as the House Republican Whip, Eric Cantor, becomes the Cutter In Chief through his obscene “You Cut” web-based reality show, let’s hope most Americans have more sense. Let’s work together with sensible policymakers to create, rather than further tatter, an effective safety net so that we may all weather the current economic storm and those to come. We can start by recognizing the need for continued funding of the TANF Emergency Fund.


About Karen Dolan

Karen Dolan is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and director of theCities for Progress andCities for Peaceprojects, which link community-led organizations with policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels. The focus of her work is on local democracy/empowerment, peace and economic equality. Contact her at

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