This week, Voices for America’s Children (“Voices”) turns to “sequestration,” a congressional plan to slash funding from many programs at once, including some that children depend on.
Remember last fall, when we faced a national crisis over the debt ceiling? In the deal Congress finally made, it agreed to compromise on the federal budget or else cut spending automatically across the board – that “or else” is sequestration. The congressional “super committee” was tasked with finding the compromise that would save the federal budget from the messy, indiscriminate knifework that sequestration implied.
Congress and the supercommittee failed to agree on a compromise, perhaps not surprisingly. Now sequestration cuts might start to take effect beginning next year (which the Office of Management and Budget is handling; Congress is demanding to know how in legislation advancing now). Sequestration would cut $1.2 trillion from federal spending over 10 years. After some tweaks to that total, next year’s share would come out to $109 billion of savings that Congress needs to find. This burden was split between defense and non-defense spending, which at the time was a way to motivate both liberals and conservatives to compromise.
Taming the deficit certainly is important, but there is a lot of vital support for children in that non-defense portion, which comes to $54.7 billion. Programs like child care, Head Start and Early Head Start, and health programs from the Maternal and Child Health Block Grant face huge, immediate cuts. We should note that many of these programs already cannot serve all the children who are eligible. Head Start, for example, currently can only help about half the children it should. Many other programs have waiting lists, are understaffed, or underfunded. Now these cuts threaten to throw 100,000 children out of Head Start and deny child care assistance for 80,000.
Thankfully, some critical programs are spared: Social Security, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, SNAP (formerly known as the food stamps), child nutrition, Supplemental Security Income, and refundable the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit.
Still, some of the programs families most depend upon in the wake of the recession are at risk. This next generation cannot afford the unprecedented cuts, interruptions and gaps in services that sequestration could force. We need to get Congress to pass a budget that meets the goals of sequestration while protecting investments in the next generation.