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Who Has Sequestration Harmed?

Head_start_classroomLast month, a Washington Post piece on sequestration maintained that most of the devastating consequences of those across-the-board budget cuts have failed to materialize. In "They said the sequester would be scary. Mostly, they were wrong," the authors wondered what exactly had happened to all of the ill effects Americans were supposed to feel? In some cases, they noted, Congress intervened, but in other instances, as a feature in yesterday's Post found, the cuts were heaped on the backs of people whose woes don't often make front-page news: the poor.

"Not everyone is sharing proportionally in the pain of these budget cuts," said Elizabeth Crocker, who directs a Head Start program in Oakland, Calif., in the piece. While, as the article points out, some federal agencies have figured out ways around the worst cuts, many programs were hit hard, and people who depend on this nation's safety net have felt this the most.

The story examines the ways in which Hispanic families who depend on social programs, Head Start in particular, have been stung by the sequester. Maireny Cammacho, 33, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, wonders what she will do now that the Head Start center in her Yonkers, N.Y., neighborhood has closed. The early childhood education program not only prepared her sons for kindergarten, it fed them and gave them a safe place to stay while she and her husband were at work, relieving them of the burden of an enormous day care bill.

It's a rare media report on the impact of the cuts. Although some outlets have done fine work on sequestration's impact on hungry and poor people (see the Atlantic's "The Sequester's Devastating Impact on America's Poor" and National Journal's "How the Sequester Hurts Poor People"), it's a narrative that has been largely absent from newspapers, magazines, and television news programs. As the Atlantic piece pointed out, it's “fashionable in political circles to say the mandatory budgets cuts haven't been the predicted disaster"—even if cuts to programs that help hungry and poor people prove otherwise.

Last week, during Bread's monthly grassroots conference call and webinar, policy analyst Amelia Kegan pointed out that the media has largely ignored the effects of sequestration on vulnerable people, and stressed how important it is that Bread members continue to push their members of Congress to replace these cuts with a balanced approach. “We know if it’s not front page news, it doesn’t mean it’s not happening and isn’t important—if Congress doesn’t hear from you, they won’t think it’s a problem,” she said. 

The bottom line is, if Congress doesn't hear about it, Congress won't fix it. And when an important issue isn't in the news, it becomes even more important for advocates to speak up and bring that issue to their senators and representative. A short-term sequester fix is still possible, but it's up to advocates to push for it, and make this nation doesn't solve its budgetary woes in a way that unfairly burdens hungry and poor people. 

Photo: Children in a Head Start class in Tucson, Ariz., eat a nutritious lunch (Jeffrey Austin).

 

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