Central Falls, RI residents denounce social cuts following city’s bankruptcy filing

Published on WSWS, by Kate Randall, 8 August 2011.

The World Socialist Web Site is continuing its coverage of the impact of the proposed federal budget cuts on workers and young people across the US. On August 2, Congress approved at least $2.4 trillion in spending cuts, which will sharply reduce funds available for social programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, the health insurance programs for the poor and elderly, as well as the Social Security retirement and disability program.

For this installment, the WSWS visited Central Falls, Rhode Island, a distressed municipality that filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection last week, opening the way for the imposition of drastic cuts in current workers’ and retirees’ benefits and pensions, as well as cutbacks to city services already severely curtailed … // 

… “In relation to the debate over the debt ceiling, I don’t believe in the banking system, because I think the banking system is for the very wealthy. But they’ve made the debt ceiling into this big huge political thing. What if all of us decided that we weren’t going to pay our taxes because of what happened in Congress? They’d come and get us and put us in jail.

“I was reading Henry David Thoreau on Civil Disobedience, and he refused to pay taxes during the Spanish-American War because he really believed that it was a wrong war. And he stood up against it, and he said that true statesmen are people who care about the people. Now politicians are just there for a means to an end, for corporations, for the war.

“I think that it’s wrong the way they’ve manipulated the debt crisis. I don’t know how much of the budget is social programs. I know health care accounts for a lot of the budget.”

Linda said, “For me, personally, I have no health insurance, even though I’m on Social Security Disability. I’m not eligible for Medicare for two years, because they need to make sure that the disability is long-term, a permanent disability. Luckily, I had health insurance until May 31 through my former employer, but that’s gone now. This means for most doctor’s appointments I have to pay full rate.”

“Maybe it’s wishful thinking,” Catherine said, “but I’m hoping they’re going to cut funds for the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Because I think what is leading to the budget crisis is the debt that we’re accumulating. I want soldiers to be safe, but I think that the wars have to end. We have to let the people that are living there ultimately be responsible for what goes on there.

“We also have a responsibility after bombing the hell out of them to make sure that there’s some type of infrastructure so that those people don’t starve to death. We literally did bomb them into the Stone Age.”

Both Lin and Catherine are on Social Security Disability, and worry about the impact of the federal cuts. They have both worked for 30 years, but due to illness can no longer work. “My own fear,” Lin told us, “is that the impact of these cuts to the federal budget is that I may go longer have health insurance.”

Catherine described her personal situation: “I earn $990 a month, that’s what I get for Social Security disability. Out that $990 they take $110 for Medicare. I have $85 in co-payments, and my rent is $500 a month. So you figure out how much I have left to survive on. You just have rob Peter to pay Paul.”

She added, “If I were to go back to work at a full-time job for minimum wage I would lose all my benefits after nine months. There’s no way on minimum wage I could pay for health insurance and all the medication.”

We asked if either of them had seen any improvement in their living standards since the Democrats came into the White House

“I call them the Dem-Republicans, or the Demo-Repubs,” Catherine told us. “I think we need a four- or five-party system. I blame both of them for what happened with the debt ceiling, both the Democrats and the Republicans.

Asked about the connection between what’s happening in Central Falls and the bigger picture, Lin said, “I think it’s a precursor of things to come. There’s already a community down South that is bankrupt and they have pretty much eliminated just about every possible service they can.

“It’s going to happen over and over. There are cities and towns in Rhode Island that are pretty much in the same boat as Central Falls, they’re just not talking about it. A lot of the problem is pensions; pensions are woefully unfunded here in Rhode Island.

“They say the economy is improving slightly, but on the other hand I’ve seen reports that we’re actually going towards a double-dip recession. For most people on the ground, a recession was happening before there was the official recession.”

“I agree,” Catherine added. “As we saw the foreclosure crisis that started to hit in California, that worked its way across the country, we’re going to see communities across the country in default and bankruptcy, because they can no longer provide services to the people, because there aren’t enough jobs to support it.

“Central Falls is going under. People can’t pay their taxes; if there are foreclosures they don’t get any taxes on those properties. They don’t get as much taxes when people are spending less on gasoline, or cigarettes, or things of that nature.”

“At the state level, the budget was slashed. They cut a lot of the social programs. They cut the state contribution to assisted living by $206 per individual, which is basically going to shut down places that are taking in low-income people. This is for people who are mentally ill or developmentally disabled, the most vulnerable people.

“Federal dollars are being cut too. We have a lot of homeless people here, and the federal government has gotten out of the business of housing.”

As we neared the end of the interview, the server came to refill our coffee. Overhearing some of our conversation, she joined in, expressing her disgust over the library closure. “So you took the library from the kids. They complain that the kids do badly at school, and now they can’t go? You send all those kids home with summer reading lists, what are they supposed to do? Most of these kids don’t have transportation to go somewhere else.

“That’s insane. So you’re in a city that just claimed bankruptcy, half of the people don’t work. And now these kids are going to have to go without more?” (full long text).

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