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Archive for Friday, November 24, 1995

LOCAL GROUP SEEKS SUPPORT FOR SOCIAL PROGRAMS

November 24, 1995

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As the federal budget clock once again ticks toward confrontation, some in Lawrence organize to save social programs marked for cuts.

Fed up with what they've been hearing from politicians in Washington, a small group of Lawrence residents is organizing what they hope will become a much bigger response to proposed cuts to various social programs.

They are angered by plans in Congress to cut programs for children, the poor and the elderly at the same time that tax cuts are promoted for wealthier Americans.

Their talk of the need for protests and teach-ins is reminiscent of the 1960s peace and civil rights movements -- although their numbers don't yet compare.

But they hope others will join in fighting the cuts.

"I'm very concerned about the way the social programs are being dismantled one by one," said Gwen Kitos, one of about 15 people who has signed up to join a new group calling itself the Grass Roots Social Justice Coalition.

The group's first meeting, open to anyone, will be at 1:30 p.m. Dec. 6 at the Lawrence Pubic Library, 707 Vt.

Organizers don't know what, if anything, will come out of the meeting. But they hope they can draw more attention to the proposed budget cuts.

"If you're comfortable, if you have a job and health insurance and maybe a pension to look forward to, you're not worried," said Kitos, a retired nutritionist.

"But there truly are not as many people in that position any more, and I think that this dismantling of the programs is going to spill over to all age groups and is eventually going to spill over into more of the middle-income groups, and by the time that's done, there won't be anything to fall back on."

The social justice coalition formed in recent weeks in response to a series of meetings organized by the Kaw Valley Chapter of the Older Women's League, where panelists and members discussed the proposed budget cuts.

Some of those who attended the OWL meetings decided they needed to organize a group focused on fighting the cuts.

"I feel like they're going to really disempower people," said Danielle Hermey, 26, one of those who signed up.

"All these cuts represent major changes in the fabric of our society, for the worse," said Hermey, a housing specialist with Independence Inc., a Lawrence agency serving people with disabilities.

"I just think it's going to create lots more poverty," she said. "I think poverty creates lots more social problems in this country. People that aren't educated are more likely to be disempowered and unable to be productive people in our society."

The coalition members will have to act quickly to have any impact on the budget debate set to resume next week in Washington.

Congress will try to finish its work on the 1996 budget by Dec. 15, when a temporary spending bill, now keeping the government afloat, expires.

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