PUBLIC PRINTS/Charles Cullen

Bleeding Poor to Pay for War

Continuing its tradition of bleeding the poor to feed the war, the Bush administration plans to cut $1 billion from the $18 billion fund that 2 million of America's poor, disabled and elderly rely on to help pay their rent.

"Specifically," Elsa Wenzel writes in Mother Jones' "Slashing Section 8" on May 14, the administration "wants to reign in the growing costs of Section 8, the housing voucher program that chips in around two-thirds of the rent of low income people, and which conservatives have traditionally favored on the grounds that it steers people toward private landlords instead of forcing them into public housing." Social service providers are outraged by the plan, which reduces federal help for the working poor even as Bush hands out billions in corporate welfare.

According to the Journal News of Westchester County, New York: "It should be unconscionable to reduce housing assistance to the nation's poorest people when the Bush administration and some in congress are pressing for still more tax cuts for the wealthy. Apparently, it is not." HUD insists that it is merely cutting red tape, but the cuts will result in fewer families receiving any Section 8 benefits and an increase in the amount of rent the poor must pay out of pocket. HUD is already projected to fall $1.5 billion short of being able to grant the current number of rent coupons. Such difficulties may make it tempting to grant future vouchers to renters who are slightly better off than the truly down and out, enabling the government to give more people smaller benefits. In a final blow, Section 8 beneficiaries will find that the grants are less and less help each year: the annual rise in Section 8 grants will be capped at 1%, while housing costs rise an average of 5% per year. See Wenzel's excellent article at

Debra J. Dickerson reviews two books, Silent Covenants: Brown Vs. The Board of Education and the Unfulfilled Hopes for Racial Reform, by Derrick Bell, and All Deliberate Speed: Reflections on the First Half- Century of Brown Vs. Board of Education, by Charles J. Ogletree, in "A Dream Deferred," May/June issue of Mother Jones. "Mournful books both," she calls them, and their shared conclusion does indeed seem grim: "that what America must stop doing again and again is attempting to provide integrated education for its children." Dickerson finds herself agreeing even as she recoils from the blasphemy of suggesting that separate can be made equal. "Fifty years of culture notwithstanding," she writes "integration is still more rhetoric than reality, and it is the ever neglected minority children who pay the price for our continued focus on this seemingly unattainable goal." As Dickerson, Ogletree, and Bell see it, the need to abandon the idea of Brown vs. Board-style integration has as much to do with its (alleged) failure as it does with the woeful state of minority education. The numbers are compelling. Black students perform consistently worse than their white counterparts on standardized tests, and are "twice as likely to drop out of high school as whites." "Functional illiteracy," Dickerson writes, "is as high as 40% among minority youth ... Insane as it seems, perhaps embracing segregation -- ensuring that separate truly is equal -- will make all the difference."

Soccer Moms and frequent commuters aren't the only ones worried about paying a lot for gas. In fact, rising prices at the pump could spell disaster for many American workers and businesses, writes Daniel B. Wood in the Christian Science Monitor, May 13. From pizza sellers to produce shippers to independent truckers, the cost of doing business is fast becoming enough to shut business down. According to Jack Kyser, president of the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation, "Anyone who is in the business of moving goods around is having to deal with significant increases in their business costs. For those who are making little or no profit, it can be just enough to end their reasons for doing business at all." The hike in prices can be traced to increasingly expensive crude oil; now at a 13-year high of more than $40 a barrel. Truckers, frustrated by the rise in diesel costs and a lack of income compensation, have protested by honking, abandoning trucks or just not showing up for work. One Virginia trucker pointed to earnings of $76,000 that, after he paid for fuel, tolls, insurance, and permits, shrunk to $23,000. "Not enough," he says, "to live on."

Charles Cullen writes from Atlanta.

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