Policy Resource

Once Unthinkable, Automatic Cuts Mean Real Pain for Children and Families

Feb 18, 2013

Don’t look now, but we’re sliding toward that fiscal cliff again.

Only this time, the pain of $85 billion in automatic across-the-board cuts isn’t accompanied by the fear of popular tax cuts expiring. What’s left are vulnerable young children and families who stand to lose vital services if this new cliff isn’t resolved by the end of next week. Yet, as the deadline moves closer, the urgency of averting them seems to be slipping away.

To review: as 2012 ended, the country teetered on the brink of a fiscal precipice formed by the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts and the too awful to contemplate across-the-board cuts (known as a “sequester”) to achieve deficit reduction. Congress and the President resolved the tax cut dilemma for good, but only delayed until March 1 the across-the-board cuts. These once unthinkable cuts largely affect defense and domestic discretionary programs, including many that benefit young children. Somehow since New Year’s, the cuts have become less noxious to some Members of Congress who now believe they are the only chance to achieve further spending reductions. Proponents of finding another avenue to deficit reduction point out that the sequester is a clumsy mechanism that ignores the need to set spending priorities.

If children and families slide over the edge, they will have to do without things they need—like nutrition for babies or vaccinations. An exemption for safety net programs applies only to programs such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Medicaid, and mandatory child care funding. Programs that help support the development of vulnerable children and supply essential services to their families will indeed fall under the sequester ax. These programs include Head Start/Early Head Start, discretionary child care funds, WIC nutrition, vaccine purchases, and much more.

How much will it hurt?

  • Roughly 70,000 young children will lose Head Start/Early Head Start early learning services, and about 14,000 staff will lose their jobs.
  • As many as 30,000 children and families could lose child care as funding declines by $121 million. That means we will be spending 25% less in real dollars on child care than we did a decade ago. Over 600,000 low-income, nutritionally at risk, pregnant, postpartum, and breastfeeding women, infants, and children would lose WIC nutrition assistance. At least 1,600 state and local jobs could also be lost.
  • Cuts to the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief would mean 67,200 fewer HIV-positive pregnant women will receive services to prevent mother-to-child transmission, leading to nearly 12,800 more infants being infected with HIV.
  • The Centers for Disease Control would be able to purchase about 540,000 fewer doses of vaccine against diseases like hepatitis, flu, measles and whooping cough for children and adults in need of immunizations.
  • 125,000 low income families will lose rental housing vouchers, increasing housing instability that is detrimental to young children’s development.

Soon, hearing “ouch!” won’t mean a child just got an essential vaccine. It will mean she has an empty tummy or a pink slip from Early Head Start. Policymakers need to hear from infant-toddler advocates that these cuts will cause hurt that will take a long time to heal. They must find another way.

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