The impact of sequestration—the across-the-board cuts to discretionary spending done without discretion—instituted huge cuts that impacted everyday Americans, but the voices of those impacted remained relatively quiet.
Why haven’t the affects been heard? Because they impacted the quietest voices: children, the poor, and middle class Americans who feel they have no right to demand anything.
NDD United (Non-Defense Discretionary Programs United) is a coalition of leaders from non-defense programs or organizations impacted by sequestration. They held a congressional briefing on November 13 to gather these quiet and diffuse voices so that Congress can hear how sequestration impacts Americans and why more cuts will hurt more than they have already.
Sharilyn Cano is the Human Resources Director for Southern Oregon Head Start, which is one of the nation’s highest performing head start programs. Like many head start programs, Sharilyn relies on federal funding, and when the funding is cut, that means a direct loss to staff and resources. She stated that sometimes the only way she could decide who to lay-off without pay or to let go was by hiding their names in an excel spreadsheet. She was forced to let go of middle class jobs, and sentencing the rest who stayed on to more work, more stress and burnout. With less people and less resource, they can now help less children.
Phil Francis retired as Superintendent of Blue Ridge Parkway this year. It is the largest and most visited National Park in the country. This year he had just 8 full-time employees to staff 14 visitor centers, and 40 maintenance workers doing the work of 80 just a few years before. If the national parks were a $300,000 house, they are given the equivalent of 46 cents a year to maintain, take care of, and to protect our nation’s valuable treasures. It was suggested he recruit volunteers to do the work of once full-time salaried people. But even volunteers need coordinators, training, and resources.
Rosemary Brewer works for Detroit Manufacturing System, a company she helped start that trained and invested in over 500 workers this past year. She was able to provide middle class jobs to more workers than was originally planned in city desperately trying to find hope. A trend in manufacturing is to outsource jobs, but she has proof that we have workers, even in the most struggling economies, who are trainable, hungry for meaningful employment, and hoping for work. Most of the new employees were unemployed for 17 months or longer. “We’re not filling up prisons or welfare lines,” she said, “we are investing in people who will help themselves.” During the sequestration, funding for job training programs for companies like hers are being cut.
Dr. Jian Liu at the University of North Carolina relies on National Institute of Health funding to create Heparin, a blood anti-coagulation medicine used in surgeries and other medical procedures. The funding allows him to create the drug as well as train students for work in the industry. During the past two years during sequestration, however, his grants from NIH were cut by 60% in the first year, and 40% in the second. He produced and trained at half of his capacity. The alternative? Heparin imports from China in 2008 resulted in 81 deaths and many more hospitalizations due to contamination and poor quality.
The sequestration was put in place to serve as a punishment for when Congress fails to pass a budget. This is a dire circumstance made readily apparent in the shadow of the recent government shutdown.
Future sequestration cuts are on the horizon, and we are just beginning to grapple with the damage done to our children, the poor, and middle class Americans who are already hurting.
Those calling for a balanced budget will only consider spending cuts, choosing to ignore that government spending supports the economy and the workers and their families in it. Increasing tax rates and removing tax breaks are not the only way to increase revenue. Increasing the tax base—the number of those working meaningful and well-paying jobs would do the same.