Is spending on children really driving the federal deficit? Did kids cause the financial crisis or bring about the recession? Of course not. So why do the sequester cuts punish thousands of Maine’s children, youth and families with millions of dollars in cuts to programs and services?
Congress and the president had more than a year to head off sequestration, but on March 1, due to a lack of an agreement, it took effect. And those effects are beginning to be felt in Maine.
Sequestration is $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts going into effect over the next 10 years, with roughly $85 billion slated for this year. Agencies and departments don’t have any input on how it goes into effect — the spending cuts are implemented across the board.
It started with the 2011 standoff over the U.S. debt ceiling and ended with Congress and the administration agreeing to more than $2 trillion in cuts. About $1 trillion of that was laid out in the debt-ceiling bill and the rest imposed through sequestration — a device so unpalatable that Congress would have to disarm it by coming up with an equal amount of spending reductions elsewhere.
That plan failed in November of 2011 when the “supercommittee” failed to agree on a less painful way to cut spending.
Congress then put off the sequester until March 1 as part of the last-minute fiscal cliff deal on New Year’s Day. However, without any movement toward an agreement, sequestration is now in effect.
Half of the $1.2 trillion will be cut from the Defense Department and other national security agencies, with the rest of the cuts coming on the domestic side — education, nutrition programs, child care, housing aid, food inspections, national parks and more.
While the Pentagon has laid out plans ranging from furloughs of hundreds of thousands of civilian workers to combat readiness training and weapons maintenance, the White House put out information on cuts to the domestic programs, which states that the sequester cuts in Maine will result in:
— 300 fewer children enrolled in Head Start and Early Head Start.
— 1,800 young children and mothers losing WIC food assistance.
— $2.7 million less in funding for primary and secondary education.
— $2.6 million less in funds for about 30 teachers, aides and staff who help children with disabilities.
— 631 low-income families losing rental housing vouchers.
— A 9.4 percent cut in unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed.
— 6,240 fewer people getting job search assistance to help them find employment and training.
The continued loss of federal dollars coupled with our state’s budget cuts are seriously affecting early care and education, evidenced-based prevention programs with documented outcomes, and the ability of all our public school students to succeed academically.
There is not one segment of the population that is not going to be affected by sequestration. These cuts will hurt our nation and hurt Maine.
Maine’s congressional delegation must work with their colleagues in Washington, D.C., to support a 2014 budget agreement that will reverse sequester cuts, prevent harmful cost shifts to states and protect programs that serve our most vulnerable residents, so that greater numbers of children and families do not fall into poverty. Congress created the sequester. It is time for Congress to end it.
Please call your members of Congress and tell them that ending the sequester cuts is the right thing to do for Maine.
MaryLou Beaver is director of Every Child Matters in Maine; Cheryl Walker is an early childhood consultant; Philip H. Printz is a senior consultant at York County Community College; and Barbara Wentworth is director of Community Impact at the United Way of York County.