Staring Down the Sequester
DeEtte Peck uses her Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card in Portland, Ore., to purchase food. The card helps people with low incomes purchase food through SNAP. (Brian Duss for Bread for the World)
Congress may have addressed the fiscal cliff at the beginning of the new year, but the budget fights will continue, and the next round of deadlines are approaching rapidly. On March 1, the across-the-board cuts—known as the sequester—begin to take effect. Then on March 27, the current stop-gap measure funding the government—known as a continuing resolution or CR—expires.
Members of Congress agree that the sequester is a bad approach to deficit reduction, but they can’t agree on how to replace it. Thus, an increasing number of members of Congress are saying they believe the sequester will go into effect for at least some period of time.
Latest estimates suggest nondefense programs would be cut by about 5.1 percent for the remainder of the current fiscal year. Under this scenario, WIC would be cut by approximately $333 million, and 450,000 recipients would lose benefits. Poverty-focused development assistance would see roughly $1 billion in cuts. This could mean tens of thousands of lives lost due to reduced or denied access to food aid, medicine, clean water, and other services that U.S. aid dollars provide. More than 2 million people would be harmed by cuts to Food for Peace and McGovern-Dole school feeding programs.
As bad as these cuts would be, the sequester is not the biggest budget threat. Congress could subject these programs to further cuts as Congress finalizes appropriations for the remainder of the 2013 fiscal year, which runs through Sept. 30, 2013. More concerning, some members of Congress want to alter the sequester to protect defense spending by shifting the $45 billion in defense cuts to have the full $90 bill fall on nondefense programs, including WIC, poverty-focused development assistance, international food aid, and other appropriated spending programs.
Moreover, a number of programs for hungry and poor people are currently protected from the sequester — these include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), the child nutrition programs, the Earned Income and Child Tax Credit, and Medicaid. However, some in Congress urging a sequester replacement package that eliminates these protections.
Bread for the World is calling on Congress to eliminate the possibility of the sequester with a balanced package that includes both new revenue and responsible spending cuts. This plan needs to leave a place in the budget for programs that help feed hungry people and move poor people move out of poverty.
The Farm Bill
Congress failed to reauthorize the farm bill in 2012, choosing instead to extend most farm programs through Sept. 30, 2013. Therefore, the House and Senate Agriculture Committees must begin the process again, going through the committee process and basing their work on the bills written last year. Although the 2012 Senate proposal had some good provisions when it came to international food aid reform, it also cut SNAP by $4.5 billion. The 2012 House proposal cut SNAP by over $16 billion and international food aid programs by more than 95 percent.
Bread for the World members must continue to push hard against cuts to SNAP and international food aid.
[This piece originally appeared in the February edition of Bread's e-newsletter.]
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