Replacing Sequester Will Require 'A Snowball Effect'
By Robin Stephenson
“It’s going to take a snowball effect” to replace the sequester, said Bread for the World’s senior policy analyst, Amelia Kegan, during a recent webinar with Interreligious Working Group on Domestic Human Needs (DHN) coalition partners. “There needs to be a political cost where there are proposals that harm poor and vulnerable populations, and we need your help."
DHN members, including the National Council of Churches, NETWORK Lobby, and Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC), joined Kegan for an informative hourlong webinar last week. The event began with an overview of the sequester, from the Budget Control Act of 2011, which established sequestration, to the present-day reality of what the enacted legislation means for poor and hungry people.
The reality is bleak. Raechel Banks, Eisendrath legislative assistant at the RAC, ran through the list of consequences that will occur if the 5.1 percent across the board cuts of the sequester are not replaced with a balanced approach. Nationally, approximately 600,000 women and children are expected to lose nutrition assistance through WIC and 100,000 formerly homeless people will lose housing.
Further complicating, and potentially worsening, the effect of the automatic cuts is the FY14 House-proposed Ryan Budget, which shields defense and balances the budget in ten years on cuts alone—with the majority targeting programs that assist poor and hungry people.
Banks emphasized the need to tell stories at the community level and pointed out that the Coalition on Human Needs has state fact sheets that can be helpful when preparing to speak to members of Congress or write a letter to the editor. Turning the statistics into stories, though, is critical in moving legislators to action.
The importance of turning the issue of the proposed cuts into a public dialogue, versus a political one, was echoed by special guest speakers Darrel Thompson and Bruce King, both senior staffers for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.
“I really believe the faith community has an authentic voice that can speak above and beyond the partisan nature on the Hill,” said Thompson. “It's an opportunity to speak about things from compassion— from a human needs perspective.”
King emphasized the importance of local media and its ability to translate broad issues to the community level. “The more you can highlight the local impact of people affected in your community, the more likely to influence Congress,” he said.
The bottom line is this: whether or not Congress takes action depends on how much they hear from an outraged public. We must demand that the sequester be replaced with a balanced plan that protects poor and vulnerable populations. Consider how you can make noise. We are encouraging Bread for the World members to make their voices heard by making local visits to members of Congress, writing letters to their senators and representatives, and joining the public discussion through writing letters to the editor. Here is a simple guide to assist you.
Robin Stephenson is national social media lead and senior regional organizer, western hub, at Bread for the World.
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