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Countdown to sequestration


Should the United States Congress fail to enact legislation that will trim the national budget by Friday, $85 billion in automatic spending cuts will go into effect.

Known as sequestration, these cuts are, according to the Congressional Research Service, largely across-the-board spending reductions that will impact most programs within the federal budget.
However, it is important to note that there is no current federal budget. Instead, the country’s fiscal house is running on a continuing resolution that funds programs at the previous budget’s rate.

The senate is expected to vote today on S.388, a measure authored by Senator Barbara A. Mikulski, (D-Maryland), that would appropriately limit sequestration, and eliminate tax loopholes among other actions.

“This faux crisis will throw cold water on our fragile economy and devastate America’s children and families. Taking an ax to investments in our children, our economic recovery, and our communities is irresponsible and dangerous,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teacher (AFT).

. . . “America’s educators, frontline health professionals and public employees work every day to make a difference in the lives of the children and families they serve–and these public servants already have been forced to stretch resources to their breaking point and make sacrifices to ensure they are able to serve their communities. We cannot cut our way to prosperity, and we cannot continue to inflict pain on children and families and on those who educate, heal and nurture them.”

Weingarten continues, “Congress must live up to its responsibility to the American people, put a stop to this endless charade of manufactured crises, and start investing in building a brighter future for all who call America home. Congress should act immediately on the balanced approach put forth by Sens. Harry Reid and Patty Murray that would stop these dangerous cuts and instead invest in our children and communities by closing tax loopholes for the wealthiest Americans and big corporations, and by asking millionaires to pay a little more to protect our children and America’s future.”

On a national basis, the potential impacts could include:
* Eliminating Title I education funds for more than 2,700 schools, which means cutting support for nearly 1.2 million disadvantaged students. This funding reduction would put the jobs of approximately 10,000 teachers and aides at risk. Students would lose access to individual instruction, after-school programs, and other interventions that help close achievement gaps.

* Cuts to special education funding would eliminate federal support for more than 7,200 teachers, aides, and other staff who provide essential instruction and support to preschool and K-12 students with disabilities.

* Because of cuts to Head Start community and faith-based organizations, small businesses, local governments and school systems would have to lay off more than 14,000 teachers, teacher assistants and other staff.

* Up to 373,000 seriously mentally ill adults and seriously emotionally disturbed children could go untreated.

* Cuts to higher education: $49 million would be cut from the federal work-study program, which would affect 33,000 students; and $37 million would be cut from the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants Program making it harder for 71,000 students to afford college.

* Cuts to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Child Care and Development Fund would leave 30,000 low-income children without child care subsidies, denying them access to child development programs and ending a crucial work support for many families.

* The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Housing Choice Voucher Program, which provides rental assistance to families with very low incomes, would face a significant reduction in funding, which would place about 125,000 families at immediate risk of losing their permanent housing.

* Cuts to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would deny life-saving immunizations to 30,000 children and 20,000 adults. And Medicare cuts would lead to 200,000 fewer healthcare providers on the job and healing patients.

In Southern California, an estimated 276,000 jobs could be impacted, according to Norm Heckling, senior deputy to Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich and co-chair of the Los Angeles Jobs Defense Council.

“In the worst case scenario, the loss of tax revenue to state and local governments could be up to $2 billion on an annual basis,” said Hickling, noting that some jobs have already been impacted.
These are the jobs that companies have not filled because they were uncertain about the outcome of the budget battles on Capitol Hill, he said.

Hickling said that in addition to big companies like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, there are small firms that are contractors supplying the defense, healthcare and education sectors that could lose out.

In general, the overall net impact on total federal revenue to Los Angeles County is likely to be small–less than 1 percent of the county’s total federal revenue, notes a report given to the Board of Supervisors. This is because the county receives most of its federal revenue through low-income mandatory programs that are exempt from sequestration cuts, including Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Title IV-E Foster Care and Adoption Assistance, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and Child Support Enforcement.

Other programs of county interest that are exempt from sequestration cuts include surface transportation programs funded from the Highway Trust Fund, the Airport Improvement Program, the Independent Living Program, and child care entitlement mandatory and matching funding.

While the overall impact of fiscal year 2013 sequestration cuts on the county would be relatively small, three departments would be more significantly affected because they receive a significant amount of federal revenue through non-defense discretionary programs that would be subject to the roughly 5.3 percent across-the-board reduction.

According to Vincent Harris, senior policy adviser and special assistant to Second District Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas, said the three areas are Community Development block grant programs that administer Section 8 and low-income housing; the Workforce Investment Act; the Older American Act, which operates the senior meal program; the Ryan White AIDS and Public Health Emergency Assistance programs.

Additionally, Harris said the Transportation Security Administration budget will be cut, which could likely mean longer lines at airports because the hours of TSA agents are expected to be slashed.

“Sequestration means deep cuts to long-term unemployment benefits, jobs programs that overwhelmingly serve minority communities such as YouthBuild or Jobs Corps, as well as funding reductions for infrastructure programs and public-sector jobs, which disproportionately employ women and African Americans,” said Congresswoman Karen Bass.

“For the 14 percent of African Americans nationally who are unemployed, sequestration means that those who have been looking for work for at least six months could lose almost 10 percent of their weekly jobless benefits under sequestration.

“More than 400,000 low-income women of color who benefit from supplemental food and nutrition programs to help feed their children would see a reduction in services, while $3 billion would be taken out of education funding, forcing 70,000 children off of Head Start and reducing access to student financial aid for young adults attending college.

Bass continued, “Sequestration is another unnecessary self-inflicted wound from Congress that will disproportionately hurt the African American community, particularly those struggling to find work as our economy recovers from the worst recession since the Great Depression.

“The saddest part about this entire debate is that it doesn’t have to be this way,” she said.
“President Obama and Democrats in Congress put forward numerous balanced approaches to avoid sequestration and pay down the nation’s debt without hurting programs most important to the African American community. Examples include repealing subsidies to big oil companies at a time they are generating record profits; closing tax loopholes that benefit the wealthy and large corporations; and implementing the “Buffett Rule,” which says middle class and low-income Americans shouldn’t pay a higher tax rate than millionaires and billionaires.”

Defense is another department expected to take a significant hit, according to Antelope Valley Congressman Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

The Department of Defense recently officially informed Congress of its intent to impose furloughs on the Department of Defense’s entire civilian work force, if sequestration is not avoided.

“This is sad but not unexpected news,” said McKeon. “The House Armed Services Committee predicted over a year ago that sequester would result in mass furloughs and layoffs of civilian employees. Since that time, the House voted twice to resolve sequester and avoid these furloughs,” McKeon pointed out.

“These men and women, many of whom have dedicated their careers to their country, deserve better than to be treated as pawns in a game of political brinksmanship. Unfortunately, while my colleagues and I were sounding the alarm and finding solutions, the commander in chief was persistently unengaged, refusing to allow the Pentagon to plan for these cuts. As these cuts loom, the ‘balanced’ proposals President Obama has belatedly embraced to prevent sequestration include tens of billions in additional cuts to our military; cuts that could put many of these jobs in jeopardy even without the meat ax of sequestration,” McKeon said.

“If sequestration occurs, services and programs that millions of Americans rely on like Meals on Wheels, Head Start, and rental assistance programs for low-income families would be affected.  In addition, sequestration would eliminate funding for state and local grants that support firefighter positions and local emergency management personnel, forced furloughs for patrol agents who secure our borders, and food inspectors who make certain that the food we eat is safe,” said Congresswoman Maxine Waters.

“Instead of placing significant services and the well being of our citizens at risk, we need to work to avoid sequestration, and enact a balanced approach built on responsible spending cuts, increased revenues, and growth with jobs. As the president pointed out in his State of the Union address, the focus of the next two years must be creating jobs and strengthening our economic growth. There are still too many unemployed Americans. Our top priority needs to be making America a magnet for new jobs,” continued Waters.