Communities of color suffering in midst of recession

The unemployment rate among African-Americans is still above 15 percent. In fact, the unemployment rate in the African-American community historically lags behind the national rate. Among Hispanics, the unemployment rate is 11.6 percent.

If we are really going to achieve a full economic recovery, we need to ensure that any legislation we pass in Congress creates jobs for minorities, makes economic opportunities more accessible in communities of color and provides pathways out of poverty. But through two months of Republican leadership in the House, we have yet to see one job-creation bill come to the floor. Instead, the legislation that Republicans have pushed is anti-job and will harm our neediest communities the most.

One of the fundamental reasons why I strongly opposed the Republicans’ continuing resolution was the disproportionate impact of their cuts on low-income families and women. When these groups are hurt, we know that vulnerable minority and immigrant communities feel the sting as well. The Republican plan targets low- and middle-income people and strips away support for critical programs and services that they depend on. In California alone, the Republican plan will cost us 75,000 jobs. That number balloons to 800,000 nationwide.

Some of the most egregious Republican cuts include $400 million from the successful COPS community-policing program, more than $1 billion from public housing assistance and more than $750 million from financial aid to the neediest students.

Republicans are proposing to slash $1.1 billion from Head Start, a program that benefits more than one million children every year. Twenty-nine percent of those children are African-American and 36 percent are Latino. More than 1,500 children in my hometown of Oakland depend on Head Start. We know how critical early childhood education is to students’ academic development and how it improves their chances to be successful in life. Education is the foundation for building a strong minority workforce in the future. Yet this is where Republicans want to cut the fat.

Republicans want to slash $1.4 billion in funding to train unemployed workers for new jobs. And they have blocked efforts by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and me to extend emergency unemployment benefits for long-term unemployed workers. If we don’t train unemployed workers for new jobs, and fail to provide them with aid to make ends meet as they look for work, how do we expect them to support their families? These programs and services that Republicans want to cut are beneficial to all Americans, but they are particularly critical to minority communities. We must invest MORE, not less, in these programs and services that are proven to work.

I share the concerns of many of my colleagues that we need to eliminate wasteful government spending. So if we’re serious about fiscal responsibility, how about we work together to trim our defense-spending budget? Last month, I offered two amendments to H.R. 1 to cut wasteful defense spending. Those amendments would have audited the Defense Department budget to prevent waste, fraud and abuse, and would have lowered defense spending back to 2008 levels.

In addition, this year alone, the U.S. will spend $100 billion waging a war in Afghanistan that we should have never started.

Imagine how many jobs we could create and how many economic opportunities we could extend to underserved communities if we cut wasteful defense spending. We could invest more in education, job training, infrastructure, small-business development and other worthwhile projects. Those investments would drive our economic recovery in EVERY community across the nation.

As an appropriator, I will fight to ensure that, as we continue the important work of crafting a budget, we keep the needs of poor, low-income families — and particularly communities of color — at the forefront of national priorities. Budgets are moral documents that reflect what we stand for as a nation. Let’s work together to pass a budget that allows every person in every community of our nation to believe that the American Dream is still accessible to them.

Lee is a member of the House Appropriations Committee.