Debating Sequestration

It turns out that even people who are knowledgeable about the federal budget are surprised by the potential impact of sequestration – the automatic spending cuts set to go into effect at the end of this year.

This week I had the opportunity to return to Ohio, a critical swing state in the presidential elections and for determining which party will control the U.S. Senate. I was there at the invitation of the Center for Community Solutions and Cleveland Peace Action, to speak on the federal budget before the Human Service Advocates Network. The event was hosted by the Cleveland Food Bank.

The Human Service Advocates Network (HSAN) is a network of nearly 200 of Cleveland’s health and human service leaders. HSAN promotes education, information, advocacy, and professional development on leading health and human service public policy issues. Members are keenly aware of the connection between the federal budget and their work. Attendees included service providers, county officials and a representative of the local member of Congress.

So this is a savvy group. When I asked them how many of them were familiar with the concept of sequestration, three-quarters of them raised their hands. In my recent experience, that’s a lot.

Yet even they were surprised by the magnitude of the cuts that would occur to federally supported programs they care about – healthcare screening, Title I education assistance, Head Start, to name a few – if sequestration happens. They see the proposed cuts as potentially devastating, particularly for programs that have already seen their funding reduced in recent years.

So the first questions when we opened the Q&A were, “what’s going to happen? Can Congress agree on a plan that will deal with sequestration? What will it look like?”

To which I replied, “the outcome of the elections could determine what happens,” and “stay tuned to NPP for the latest information.”