The Unthinkable Becomes the Status Quo
On Friday evening, President Obama signed the order putting into motion across-the-board cuts (otherwise known as sequestration) for many domestic programs that provide needed services for young children and families.
How the cuts will be implemented is still largely unknown. Many will undoubtedly take a while to unfold. Some agencies may be able to pare back in areas that the public will not notice. But for programs that provide direct services, hurting some vulnerable children and families seems unavoidable.
How deep are the cuts?
Domestic programs subject to the sequester must be cut by 5% for discretionary programs and 5.1% for mandatory programs not exempt from the cuts. In fact, the cuts will feel much deeper, more like 9% according to the Office of Management and Budget, because they must be taken from funding for only the 7 months remaining in the federal fiscal year.
How will programs serving young children and families be affected?
Guidance for state and local grantees is slowly trickling out. The Administration must extend the cuts to the program and project level, that is, cuts cannot be shifted around within agencies to spare some programs. However, the timing of cuts can vary, depending on how program funding flows to states or the local level or how states choose to implement the cuts. We are still waiting for more specific information, but here is what we know about a few programs:
- WIC will receive a total cut of $333 million. Earlier, the Administration had estimated that more than 600,000 women and children would lose this important nutritional supplement. * Compressing the cuts into 7 months leads to this high number. States are still awaiting specific guidance, but one course would be to reduce caseloads by prioritizing the groups (e.g., pregnant women, breastfeeding women, infants) who will receive services first.
- Child Care and Development Block Grant will be cut by $115 million. States would decide how to absorb the loss of this amount.
- The precise cut for Head Start/Early Head start isn’t known yet, but the Child and Family Services account in which it is the largest program would be cut by $503 million. The Office of Head Start has advised grantees to begin preparing for the cuts, emphasizing the need to maintain high quality services and ensure health and safety. * Reductions in the number of children enrolled and staff will mostly be in the program year starting next fall, but are estimated to total 70,000 children.
- Early Intervention services under Part C of IDEA will be cut by a little more than $22 million, taken from the grant states will receive in July of this year.
Will Congress roll back the sequester?
Stopping the cuts now seems unlikely. The President has committed to negotiating a continuing resolution to fund the government for the rest of the year without attempting a roll back. Congress could move to give the President more leeway in deciding what to cut—in other words, take away the across-the-board aspect and create priorities—but the $85 billion spending reduction is here to stay.
While the full impact of the cuts may not be felt immediately, the fact remains that elected representatives have chosen to take away services young children and their families need to support positive development and school readiness rather than pursue a more balanced and thoughtful approach to deficit reduction. As advocates for children and families, you should continue to let your Members of Congress know that this clumsy means of reducing the deficit undermines the growth and development of our future workforce and therefore our country’s competitiveness.
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Senator Murray receives the award for making babies and young children a national priority.