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The Sequester: Families and Kids Not on Congress’ Agenda

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(This article, which first appeared on Equal Voice,  includes information from Equal Voice News reporter Kathy Mulady and Associated Press writers Nedra Pickler, Jim Kuhnhenn and Stephen Ohlemacher. Please see Equal Voice’s infographic at the end of this post. Republished with permission.)

Unless sequestration is stopped by an act of Congress, the budget cutting will [contine], reducing funding to thousands of programs that took years to build, and provide a safety net for millions of poor working families.

Under the plan, every dollar approved each year by Congress [will] be slashed by a uniform amount, resulting in at least temporary layoffs for hundreds of thousands of public and private-sector workers. Programs like Medicare and Social Security are exempt, but the slashing of other programs will slow the nation’s fragile economic recovery.

On March 1 automatic cuts of $85 billion from a $3.6 trillion budget [began]. That includes cuts of eight percent to the Pentagon and five percent to domestic agency operating budgets. More than 3.8 million Americans who have been jobless for six months or longer could see their unemployment benefits reduced by nearly 10 percent.

The effects of the cuts will be felt gradually, but deeply.

Furloughs of federal workers — forced unpaid days off that could cut income by 20 percent or more for a family —won’t start for a month due to notification requirements.

Furloughs of workers like air traffic controllers, meat inspectors, FBI agents, the Border Patrol and park rangers will mean an inevitable deterioration of noticeable government services that could, for instance, force intermittent closures of meat packing plants and shorter operating hours at smaller airports.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan says teacher layoffs have already begun.

“This stuff is real,” he said last week.

Organizations nationwide, especially those helping low-income working families have been calculating the potential impacts for months. The cuts will have consequences.

Linda Meric, national executive director of 9to5, which fights for justice for working women, said the government would be wiser to raise taxes on corporations that ship jobs overseas, and millionaires who pay less in taxes than their secretaries.

“There will be $85 billion in mindless, across-the-board spending cuts, including to vital safety net programs. These indiscriminate cuts will hurt working families, seniors and other vulnerable Americans,” said Meric. “This gutless approach to policy-making is also likely to harm our fragile economy by cutting jobs and stifling growth.”

In communities around the country, local nonprofit agencies that depend on federal funds to serve the poorest of the poor will not be able to provide essential services such as childcare, health care services, housing, workforce services, and food programs. They will be forced to close their doors to hundreds of families in need.

“The impact of sequestration on poor families in the Rio Grande Valley could be devastating!” said Ron Rogers, president and CEO of South Texas Adult Resource and Training Center in San Benito, Texas.

“Community-based nonprofits are usually strapped for resources to begin with,” said Rogers. “Sequestration will be a death blow as they will be required to lay off workers that provide essential services to the poor families and the elderly. This ripple effect will not only severely impact these workers, but the organizations that they work for.”

Children have the most to lose from sequestration say many.

“VOICES for Alabama’s Children is extremely distressed about real blows to children in Alabama that will result from sequestration,” said Linda Tilly, executive director of VOICES.

In Alabama alone, about 1,000 children will lose access to Head Start and Early Head Start which is critical to their early education. Up to 500 vulnerable children will lose access to child care assistance that helps their parents stay employed.

In addition, in Alabama, at least 2,100 fewer children will receive vaccines for diseases such as mumps, measles, rubella, tetanus influenza, whooping cough, and Hepatitis B exposing them and potentially others to those preventable diseases.

“Sequestration is a concept that many people don’t really understand, but thousands of children in our state will feel its impact directly,” said Tilly.

President Barack Obama traveled to Newport News, Virginia on [last] Tuesday to make a speech about automatic budget cuts.

A map on the National Women’s Law Center site shows the potential loss of Head Start and child care funding by state.

Carol Burnett, Mississippi Low-Income Child Care Initiative, said Mississippi families stand to lose $1.77 million in child care money, and $9.6 million from Head Start.

“That will put a lot of kids out of early childhood programs. The child care cut would result in about 711 children being left without child care,” she said. “This would be terrible for children.”

In Illinois alone, the federal sequester would negatively affect thousands of children in early childhood education programs, it will also impact job search assistance for their parents.

“Illinois will lose about $1.4 million in funding for job search assistance, referral, and placement. This means approximately 50,780 fewer people will get the assistance they need to find employment,” said Celena Roldán, executive director of Erie Neighborhood House in Chicago.

“The economy has already impacted these children and families, and they do not deserve to go through more,” said Roldán.

In Louisiana, Gina Womack, executive director of Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children said cuts to juvenile justice programs will threaten the state’s ability to comply with the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency and Prevention Act. It would cause juvenile justice programs to face significant cuts, short staffing, and reduced maintenance of facilities, leading to dangerous conditions for youngsters.

Ron Rogers at the Start Center in Texas, said these decisions will not be forgotten.

“Whatever the outcome, my hope is that all of those families affected by this wrong-headed approach to responsible governance will cast their displeasure at the ballot box for years to come,” he said.

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