Wednesday, February 20, 2013

One week left 'til the Sequester

One week left…

On March 1st, new federal budget cuts will begin to take effect.  If Congress does nothing, many hundreds of thousands of people will be hurt by across-the-board cuts (sequestration) to education, nutrition, job training, home heating assistance, public health, mental health, and social services, to name only a few areas. In the absence of a resolution, there will be $31.4 billion in spending cuts to domestic programs like WIC, Head Start, child care, housing, home energy, homeless aid, education and training, and much more.  Medicare alone will be cut by $11.2 billion. 

Congress should replace the sequester with a balanced approach that reflects our collective responsibility to our human community.  There are core challenges facing our nation: rising income inequality, persistent unemployment, historically high rates of poverty and anemic economic growth. These challenges must be addressed with justice, but the sequester will only exacerbate them.

Sequestration was developed as a backstop – a last resort if Congress failed to reduce the deficit in a more thoughtful and balanced way.  As Christians, we believe that our economic system must be rooted in fairness, justice, and equal opportunity.  Without these values, our economy is, quite literally, demoralized.  Thus it is our responsibility, both individually and collectively, to respond to those who are in need. 

Therefore, the first rule should be that deficit reduction should not increase poverty.  Congress must not replace the current sequester with policy that will be even worse for those who are already struggling to make ends meet.  We must explore responsible alternatives to sequestration that will be more consistent with our faith and sense of compassion.  The nation’s deficit problem cannot be solved through spending cuts alone – new revenues must be part of the solution. 

To raise revenue, the tax code should be made more progressive (that is, tax liability increases as income increases), system-wide health care costs should be controlled, and unnecessary tax expenditures should be eliminated.  Further, Congress should seriously scrutinize the Defense budget, which has doubled in size in the last fifteen years.  Outdated weapons systems and an over-reliance on the apparatus of war are no way to build peace and true security in a troubled world. 

Our partners at the Coalition on Human Needs have recently released new national and state-specific fact sheets that highlight (or lowlight) the effects of these devastating cuts.   Just a sampling of the impacts in fact sheets for every state and for the U.S are startling:  Up to 125,000 families and 100,000 formerly homeless people losing their housing (or having to pay much more), 600,000 young children and moms losing WIC nutrition aid, 70,000 children denied Head Start, nearly 76,000 people with disabilities losing Voc. Rehabilitation services, 373,000 adults and children with serious mental illness losing treatment.