Can Doing Good Become the New Mercedes?

Allison Silberberg
December 8, 2010

Washington, DC – In all the news coverage of the tax-cut compromise,
two items in particular risk getting lost: Wall Street has had a banner year,
so good in fact that this year’s round of bonuses is expected to top $144
billion. That’s a lot of moolah.

At the same time, the lame-duck Congress managed to pass a critical child nutrition
bill, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act -- which
is good news -- but it had to build in cuts to food stamps to pay for it. And
that’s not good news.

Which brings me back to Wall Street. Those who are about to receive large
bonuses are entitled to do whatever they wish with their money: travel, buy
jewelry, get a snazzy new Mercedes.

Or here's a (not-so-revolutionary) idea. They could individually and
collectively take a stand on issues facing Congress and do something very bold
– and frankly very American: they could be philanthropic and invest not in
themselves but in their nation.

It’s useful to look at the struggle that went into passing the Healthy,
Hunger-Free Kids bill. 

In brief: it began with President Obama proposing $10 billion over 10 years
for the Child Nutrition Reauthorization bill, enough to provide over 30 million
hungry American children with nutrition at school. Last summer, the Senate
passed a version allotting $4.5 billion over 10 years. Why the lower funds?
Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) was only able to muster that amount because he had to
have 60 votes for cloture.

On December 2, 2010, a week after most Members of Congress enjoyed a
Thanksgiving feast, the House passed the bill with the same $4.5 billion over 10
years – which included a $2.2 billion shift in funds from the food stamp
program to offset costs.

It is ironic that many in Congress insisted on cutting food stamps at the
same time they demanded that we make permanent the tax cuts for the top
earners.

Historically, feeding needy children was less contentious and more
bipartisan. But then, politicians on both sides used to be friends with each
other. What happened to doing what was in the best interest of the country?

A nation’s values can be seen in its budget priorities and in what it does
for its most vulnerable. The numbers speak for themselves: extending the Bush tax
cut for the top 2 percent of earners will cost an estimated $700 billion over
10 years, or $70 billion per year for 10 years, and the child nutrition bill
is funded at $4.5 billion total over 10 years. Let those numbers wash over you for a
moment.

Consider, too, the long-term impact of our choices. In order for this nation
to be able to grow its economy in the future, we need a capable workforce. That
effort begins with education and nutrition for the nation’s children.

Show me a lawmaker who can eat breakfast or lunch and then not eat anything
until the next morning. For millions of American schoolchildren, this is their
reality. One in four American children is hungry or at risk of hunger each day
and night. For many, school is their most reliable source of healthy food. For
these kids, hunger can turn a snow day into something less than a cause to
cheer.

The numbers are shameful. Congress should have invested the full amount of
$1 billion per year for 10 years and provided good nutrition for our nation’s
hungry children so they can study and achieve.

This brings me to my holiday wish: may those who are blessed with Wall
Street-level riches take a page from Warren Buffet’s book and call for the end
of the tax cuts for the top 2 percent. Let’s make doing good more appealing than a
new Mercedes.

And if anyone wants to make a difference, I know many remarkable,
innovative, highly effective nonprofits that could use some support. You’re
going to need a tax write-off anyway!


Allison Silberberg is a writer/public speaker who has extensive experience as a grantmaker. She is the author of “Visionaries In Our
Midst: Ordinary People who are Changing our World,” and can be reached at allison@allisonsilberberg.com.

Allison Silberberg, 2010. All Rights Reserved.

 


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