Budget Cuts & Affirmative Action Suits

This week the House of Representatives will renew its struggle to find needle in a haystack spending appropriations it can cut in order to help pay for the rebuilding of the gulf coast areas – particularly Gulport, Mississippi and New Orleans after the tragedy of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

The irony in the proposed cuts is while there may be monies found to help rebuild buildings and infrastructure, they will probably be the same cuts that make it harder for actual people to rebuild their lives.

The House Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi held a press conference with many of her Democratic peers on Friday after the House Republicans – without the hammer of scandal-ridden Congressman Tom Delay – could not garner enough votes to pass a $50 billion dollar package.

The most controversial element of the House bill is the fact that $1 out of each $5 cut will come from social programs such as food stamps, medicaid and student loans. It seems many moderates in the House don’t want to seem too harsh toward the poor a year out from the 2006 mid-term elections.

The Senate passed their budget cut proposal bill – a $35 billion dollar package – last week. While their debate was full of controversy, as well – particularly whether to give oil companies the approval to drill in the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge. That provision was later dropped in order to get the bill passed.

But it is clear the House bill is the one that, at least the critics say, is the hot potato for social service advocates.

The policy and advocacy grooup, Voices for America’s Children says 6 million poor and low-income children will be especially hard hit. The cuts will make it harder for low-income and working poor parents to feed their children and provide them with day care the agency says. It will also make their futures quite bleak because the cuts will also pull back increases in pell grants for college education.

This fact makes the other news out of Washington even more disturbing. The Department of Justice has sent a letter to the University of Southern Illinois threatening to sue the college over its minority and female scholarship programs because they reportedly discriminate against whites, males and non-preferred status minorities.

The program the Justice Department is targeting is a group of financial scholarships given to academically qualified female and minority students to assist them in graduate and undergraduate programs. A few years ago the Supreme Court gave a split decision on universities and affirmative action saying it is unconstitutional to have quotas for students but it is constitutional to provide programs and incentives which generate diversity within the college walls.

Across the country universities have reshaped their scholarship programs and opened them up to a broader audience. SIU has requested time to review its program and seek modifications.

What is missing in this back and forth is the simple fact SIU has – at least when it comes to African-Americans achieved the goal the Supreme Court said was constitutional to seek. The black population at SIU is 12.4% – essentially equal to the same proportion of the black percentage in the U.S.

It is not all together clear whether the institution’s financial scholarship programs have been the epicenter for the demographic – but it is clear that SIU’s affirmative action program has assisted in putting highly intelligent and qualified minority and female students onto that campus – and everyone that attends Southern Illinois is better for it.

It seems quite disingenuous and cruel for the same government, which wants to cut aid for college education while saying nothing about the continued payments for things like the War in Iraq, the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts would also want to shut down a door of opportunity for aspiring students to attend college.

How can we as a society say everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed or fail based upon their own free will and inner strength when we consistently and constantly tear away the crutches that help lift up those who may need a little assistance.

No one would agree that blacks or women automatically should receive special treatment just because of the color of their skin or make up of their x or y chromosomes. But the answer is not to completely eradicate programs, which – despite popular belief – don’t give an edge; but an opportunity – opportunities that historically were not granted to them. For all the progress we’ve made in this society we are but two generations removed from the ills of Jim Crow in the South and his subtle cousin James Crow of the North.

Countless numbers of young minority students still are feeling the negative economic and social impact of them because their grandparents suffered due to the denial of the right to vote, the right to work and the right to live when, where and how they wanted.

Now it seems, if the House budget cut proposals rule the day, many of those same young people will have some suffering to do of their own.

You can contact Kapitol Hill at kapitolhill@hotmail.com

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