Homeless shelters are running out of beds. Food banks have depleted their supplies. Many elderly and poor people are in danger of going cold in their homes because the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program is running out of funds to help pay record-high heating bills. And very many of these are working people! "In other words, in Vermont and all over this country, a significant and growing number of our people are hungry, cold and homeless," Senator Bernie Sanders said at a press conference Thursday at his office in Burlington. "There is a level of desperation not seen in many years."
While the average working family has seen a decline in their real income during the years since George W. Bush took office, prices for everything from heating oil to child care are skyrocketing. Consider:
- The average price of heating oil in Vermont has more than doubled over the past seven years and is now $3.30 a gallon, 74 cents higher than last year alone.
- The average price of propane in Vermont has more than doubled over the past six years and is now $3.03 a gallon, 47 cents higher than last year.
- The average price of gas in Vermont is $3.12 a gallon, a 134 percent increase since January of 2001 and 88 cents higher than last year.
- The average health care premium for a typical Vermont family now costs $11,792 per year.
- The average cost of child care for two children in Vermont now costs almost $1,200 a month.
- The median price of a single family home in Vermont has increased by 97 percent over the last decade; and the price of rent for a modest two-bedroom apartment has increased by 42 percent over the past ten years.
- And, the price of college tuition at Vermont's four-year public colleges is up nearly 15 percent from seven years ago after adjusting for inflation to $9,582.
Making a bad situation worse, President Bush wants to significantly cut back on the resources available to the most desperate people in our society.
With the cost of home heating oil soaring, Bush wanted a $379 million cut in home heating assistance. Thankfully, Congress recently rejected this cut and provided $2.6 billion, a $400 million increase from last year. While that is a good start, much more needs to be done. First off, the president must stop delaying and immediately release the entirety of the LIHEAP contingency funds he has at his discretion.
As the affordable housing crisis expands, the president called for a major reduction in funding for elderly housing and housing for the disabled. While hunger in America grows, the president proposed eliminating Food Stamp assistance to 280,000 families. With more than nine million children lacking health insurance, he vetoed legislation that would expand the Children's Health Insurance Program. He even tried to eliminate the Community Services Block Grant Program that provides desperately-needed emergency services for the lowest income people.
"This is clearly unacceptable," Sanders said. "As soon as the Senate reconvenes later this month, I will be playing a very active role to provide solutions to these very serious problems. First, I will be leading the fight to increase home heating assistance by $800 million. In the richest country on the face of the earth, we must do all that we can to ensure that no-one goes cold this winter.
"I will work with Senator Sherrod Brown to pass an extra $40 million for The Emergency Food Assistance Program to make sure that food banks in Vermont and throughout the country have the food they need so that no-one goes hungry this winter. I will work with Senator Patrick Leahy to secure the enactment of the Farm Bill which would provide an extra $6 million in nutrition assistance to Vermonters through an increase in the Food Stamp program and federal assistance to Vermont's Food Banks. And I will work with Senator John Kerry to pass the National Affordable Housing Trust Fund Act to provide the resources necessary to build at least 1.5 million affordable housing rental units over the next decade while creating 1.8 million new jobs in the process.
Sanders continued, "Finally, as a member of the Senate Budget Committee, I will be working to reshape our national priorities to reduce poverty, expand the middle class, and shrink the ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor.
"It is a moral disgrace that 37 million Americans are living in poverty; 47 million Americans have no health insurance; and 35.5 million Americans have trouble putting food on the table. We have got to do better than that."
To watch video of the press conference, click here.