The Department of Health and Human Services is sponsoring a blog summit on preparing for the coming flu pandemic. I agreed to participate after being assured that bloggers would not be censored and that all comments adhering to reasonable standards would be posted. You can find influenza and bird flu resources here. I cross-post my first submission below ...
As with most natural disasters, a flu pandemic will not be an equal opportunity killer.
The winds and rains of Hurricane Katrina buffeted the just and the unjust, the black and the white. The storm wasn’t selective about the structures it destroyed.
But it didn’t affect all populations equally. The poor, the elderly, and the infirm were hardest hit, populations least able to shelter properly, or flee, or recover from the storm’s devastating effects.
Likewise, while a flu pandemic can affect anyone, at any income level, those of us who are not already weakened by food insecurity, who have access to quality health care, who can afford to stay home from work to avoid infection—have a much better chance of surviving.
In 2004 there were 46 million uninsured people in the United States, most of them poor or low-income. Eleven percent of U.S. households in 2005 were food insecure. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 6.4 million working poor in 2000; by 2003 that number had grown to 7.4 million.
I applaud the efforts of the Department of Health and Human Services to help Americans prepare for an influenza pandemic. But as I see it, the most effective way to help those in the lowest income brackets prepare for this tragedy is to urge this and all Administrations to bolster—rather than dismantle—the safety net for the poor.
The President’s 2008 budget proposed deep reductions in domestic discretionary spending to continue financing tax cuts for those of us who are well-off. According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities:
The discretionary programs in the budget subfunction known as “health care services” include community health centers, HIV/AIDS programs (for U.S. residents), maternal and child health programs, the Indian Health Service, substance abuse and mental health treatment ... This subfunction is slated for $2.5 billion in cuts over the next five years, relative to the expected fiscal year 2007 funding level adjusted for inflation. The cuts would reach $861 million, or 4.1 percent, in 2012.
The President’s budget also included a provision that would cut the Food Stamp Program by $740 million over the next five years, taking more than 300,000 low-income people off the program in an average month.
If we want to help all Americans prepare for the inevitable flu pandemic, what’s the sense in decreasing, rather than increasing, the resiliency of our most vulnerable neighbors? What, if anything, did we learn from the experience of Hurricane Katrina?