[Episcopal Public Policy Network] Under an agreement Congress reached in 2011, a variety of federal programs that benefit tens-of-millions of people living in poverty at home and around the world will face automatic cuts of 8.2 percent if Congress fails to agree by the end of the year on a balanced approach to alleviating our national deficit.
Congress employed this mechanism, known as sequestration, to provide an incentive for lawmakers to reach a balanced agreement. Sequestration will trigger sweeping cuts in defense and non-defense spending (including programs that address domestic and global poverty). If these proposed cuts are implemented, crucial programs that support vulnerable populations and empower and transform families and communities will reach fewer people and fewer places.
This is the first alert in a four-part series that highlights the far-reaching consequences of disproportionate cuts that will be enacted if Congress fails to reach a balanced compromise over the next few months.
What’s at stake for U.S. hunger and poverty programs if Congress does not reach a balanced agreement?
- The Women, Infants and Children Nutrition Program (WIC) assists states in providing supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education for low-income families at nutritional risk. If the 8.2 percent cuts take effect, states will be forced to cut an estimated 735,000 to 750,000 mothers and young children from the program in 2013.
- The government allocates critical funding to housing rental assistance programs for low income, elderly, and disabled Americans. Should the 8.2 percent cuts take effect, these programs will lose $2 billion in annual funding. Nearly one million people currently enrolled in the rental assistance voucher program (a majority of whom are elderly or have a disability) would be at risk of homelessness, and an estimated 100,000 households receiving Homeless Assistance Grants would lose their homes, including 1,500 veterans and their families.
- Head Start helps communities provide comprehensive childhood educational services for low-come families, including key early-childhood development programs. If Congress enacts the 8.2% cuts, 96,000 children will lose their place in the Head Start programs, and over 20,000 Head Start employees will lose their jobs.
- Low-income families often find it difficult to balance living expenses. The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) provides home heating and cooling assistance to low income families, many of which have at least one vulnerable member (a child, a senior citizen, or a person with a disability) for whom a loss of heat in the winter or cooling in the summer could have serious health and safety implications. If the automatic cuts take place, more than 649,000 families would be at serious risk of being unable to pay their utility bills.
- The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) provides food to states for their local food banks, which in turn distribute food to soup kitchens and food pantries that directly serve the public. Although TEFAP is exempt from sequestration in that the amount of funding for food purchases will remain unaffected, the administrative funding for the program—which includes the costs of warehousing and distributing food—will suffer from the sequestration cuts. The threat of looming cuts comes at a time when many central food banks are already struggling to fund regular deliveries, particularly to rural areas.
Programs that will be affected by these sweeping cuts include U.S. hunger and poverty programs, essential public education services, loan funds that invest in clean water infrastructure, international aid programs (such as Food for Peace and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief), operational funds for our national parks, and initiatives that provide support for farms and rural economies.
Over the next few weeks, we will explore the threat posed by harmful spending cuts to foreign poverty-focused development assistance, environmental protection, our food system, and public education system.