While Congress recently rushed to give the Federal Aviation Administration flexibility to avert employee furloughs and airport tower closures caused by automatic spending cuts, there are many other victims of Congress’ blunt approach to deficit reduction, known as sequestration, who aren’t as lucky. Most of them are barely blips on Congress’ radar.
Like the kids in Head Start, for example. Head Start provides comprehensive education, nutrition and health services to low-income preschoolers, toddlers and infants. The federal program serves nearly 15,000 Virginians. The White House and the Office of Head Start both estimate that the program will serve 70,000 fewer children nationwide because of the sequestration cuts. This will translate into 1,000 Virginia children losing Head Start services. Head Start programs can try to make other cuts to reduce the number of kids turned away from the program, but that could mean going to a shorter school year or from a full-day program to a part-day program. That would leave working families in a lurch and children with less help getting ready for kindergarten.
Low-income seniors get hit, too. Federal funding for meals on wheels has already been slashed due to sequestration and Virginia seniors will soon feel the effects. The Daily Press reported recently that Senior Services of Southeastern Virginia, a meals on wheels provider, lost $220,000 in funding from sequestration cuts. Another provider that covers Alleghany, Roanoke, Botetourt and Craig counties is reducing the number of people that receive daily meals and plans to scrap most emergency meals including canned foods that are distributed before storms. These cuts may impact thousands of meal deliveries, rides to the doctor, or home health care across the region.
People in need of affordable housing are also losing out. Over five million lower-income Americans, including more than 100,000 lower-income Virginians, use Housing Choice Vouchers to afford modest, but decent, rental housing. While it is still unclear how many Virginians will lose vouchers, there are signs of trouble ahead. Last week, the federal department that manages the vouchers announced that it will be closed on seven business days over the next three months. But this is just the beginning. Nationally, nearly 110,000 lower-income families are expected to lose access to Housing Choice Vouchers by the end of 2013, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Of those, about 2,250 are Virginia families. Without the vouchers, families that could once rely on charitable organizations for below-market rental units are being turned away, as these organizations cannot afford to serve a population with that low an income.
While Congress’s quick turnaround on the FAA cuts shows that it may address sequestration problems if they are too visible or politically damaging, many low-income Americans are facing the brunt of sequestration with cuts.
—Ben Paul, Program Assistant