photos and article by Mary Ellen Flannery
“I’m here to get answers!” declared David Tjaden, chair of the NEA-Student program, as he stood steps away from the Capitol. “Do lawmakers care about our generation? Do they believe our future is worth fighting for?”
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Tjaden spoke Tuesday at an energetic rally of allied citizen groups—students, retirees, and working people—all asking Congress to quickly reach a budget deal that steers the country away from the looming fiscal cliff. Without Congressional action, 8 percent across-the-board budget cuts will kick in Jan. 1, swiping $5 billion and up to 78,000 potential jobs from education, and also devastating other critical health and social programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid.
“So many of us are already dangling on our own personal fiscal cliffs—now is not the time for Congress to turn its back on us,” said Tjaden, who represents more than 60,000 future educators, many of whom are struggling with record amounts of student loan debt and joblessness.
Without a budget deal, it’s only going to get worse for young people. College affordability programs like work-study and Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants, the federal programs that keep hard-working middle-class students in college and on the road to much-needed careers, will be hit hard. Similarly, college access programs, like Trio and Upward Bound, which prepare poor students for college, also will be struck.
Special education programs for students with disabilities would lose $1 billion, class sizes would increase dramatically, and 78,000 educators would be put out of work. ““The last thing that we should be doing is cutting teachers. Any deal that we have should not include cuts to jobs, to education, to infrastructure needs, or the middle class,” said Tjaden earlier this month.
But, as the deadline looms, Congress still hasn’t come to agreement. While President Obama continues to urge lawmakers to avoid cuts by raising taxes on the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans, counter proposals from Republican leaders have relied on unspecified tax loopholes and cuts in spending to essential programs like Medicare and Medicaid.
“Stop blaming us for the problems we didn’t create,” said Diane Fleming, a retiree and member of the Alliance for Retired Americans who also spoke at the rally Tuesday. She especially urged Congress not to consider raising the minimum age for Medicare eligibility from 65 to 67, saying that it would prevent “many people from going to the doctor and getting the health care that they need.”