In recent weeks, the nation has been bombarded with nonstop media coverage of the debt ceiling debate. Congress and the president could not seem to come to an agreement over how to best protect the nation’s credit rating and control the national deficit. We were told, repeatedly, that if the debt ceiling wasn’t increased, America’s global borrowing power would be negatively affected and that the economy would suffer. At the 11th hour, Congress voted on and the president signed a cobbled together plan that ensured America could continue to borrow money to pay its debts. People across the country breathed a collective sigh of relief. Or did they?

In the midst of all this talk about America’s borrowing power and America’s place in the global economy, very little, if anything, was said about the needs of the country’s poor. Perhaps our elected officials are unaware that nearly 46 million people are receiving food stamp benefits. In Alabama, 36 percent of that state’s population receives food stamps; that’s a 120 percent increase over last year.

What we did hear during these debt debates was Republicans saying that America must slash its budget, cutting programs that support the poor in the process, in an effort to get the growing deficit under control. Democrats and the president say the support the poor but, in the interest of getting the debt ceiling increased, were willing to put the very programs they swore to protect on the table.

If these programs are cut in any way, how will families feed their children?

With more people out of work and millions of Americans set to lose their unemployment benefits this fall, it’s safe to assume that food stamp usage will only rise in the coming months. What is being done to help these people?

While we all understand that a shrinking middle class is not good for our economy, and feel for the millions who lost their homes and suffered huge losses to their 401ks and investments, we can no longer allow our government to act as if that is the only class that matters. With more and more middle class families slipping into poverty—many of them minorities—it is more critical than ever that we truly support our nation’s poor and fund programs that will uplift them.

America is spending a lot of time trying to figure out how to ‘save’ itself from economic turmoil and has, as a result, invested billions to stabilize business sectors that were operating on shaky ground. More attention must now be spent on providing a safety net for its people.

(Judge Greg Mathis is vice president of RainbowPUSH and a national board member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.)

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