August Recess: Time to End the Hunger Games
With just days until members of Congress head back to their home districts for the month of August, anti-hunger advocates should be prepared to let their senators and representatives know that recess is not a time for playing partisan games with hunger.
The House of Representatives will have only eight working days when they return before the federal government’s fiscal year ends on Sept. 30 and both chambers must pass a continuing resolution or a final spending bill to avoid a government shutdown. There is a $91 billion gap between the Senate's overall discretionary spending and House levels, so a quick resolution of the difference is highly unlikely. Congress will be voting on legislation that will affect hungry and poor people and many of their choices will be influenced by what they hear at home next month.
Key to all negotiations will be a plan to replace the sequester.
As a reminder, the sequester was intended to incentivize Congress to come up with a deal to cut $1.5 trillion over 10 years as part of the Budget Control Act. Since 2011, Congress has been unable to replace the automatic across-the-board cuts, which are now law.
The effects of sequestration this past year have largely been mitigated for programs like WIC with reserve and contingency funds that will not be available in the coming budget cycle. Other affected programs, like Meals on Wheels, haven't fared as well and the data starting to come in shows some vulnerable populations are being hit harder than others. Behind proposals in the House that would slash development assistance by 26 percent and cost lives is a strong movement to protect defense spending over social programs.
“This fall is going to be extremely intense,” says Bread for the World policy analyst Amelia Kegan. Bread members are urged to set up in-district meetings with their members of Congress and to attend any town halls their members are facilitating.
“If members go back and all they hear about is how bad sequestration is, they will come back and be motivated to deal with the automatic cuts,” Kegan says. But she cautions that “if they hear nothing, they won't think these cuts are a problem, and sequestration will continue or they could make it worse.” Replacing the sequester does not automatically ensure anti-hunger programs are safe.
At stake is funding for safety-net programs like SNAP, which is currently exempt from automatic cuts, and Medicare. Both could become the piggy banks used to replace the looming automatic defense cuts if revenue-raising is not part of a final deal.
When it looked like lines at airports might get longer earlier this year, inconvenienced travelers were vocal and Congress paid attention, adjusting sequestration's effect on air traffic controllers. To the elderly and to children experiencing hunger and poverty, sequestration is more than a nuisance; sequestration is a skipped meal, a lost educational opportunity and longer lines at food pantries.
To avert a crises of increased hunger both here and abroad, the sequester must be replaced with a balanced package that includes both revenue and responsible spending cuts. Contact your regional organizer to learn how your voice can make a difference in August.
We caution children not to play with their food — we should send Congress the same message.
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