Hot Summer Budget Battle #1: Sequestration

Hillsboro Farmers Market

The Women, Infants, Children (WIC) Farmers' Market Nutrition Program is among the programs cut by more than 20 percent this year due to sequestration/ Photo by Shelby Root

The 2011 Budget Control Act set the stage for the harsh automatic budget cuts known as sequestration to take place on Jan. 1, 2013. Due to a last-minute deal between Congress and the White House, the cuts were somewhat reduced in severity and went into effect on March 1, 2013, instead. These cuts will go on for a decade unless Congress agrees to stop them.

As each agency worked out how it would implement its share of the across-the-board cuts, public outcry allowed some ill effects to be averted. Specifically, the furloughs of meat inspectors and air traffic controllers were called off by acts of Congress. But other agencies and employees were not so lucky – Head Start centers have closed early or laid off staff, community health centers have closed, doctors have turned away patients with Medicare, and federal courts are reducing staff and hours.

A recent report by the Economic Policy Institute shows that smaller states experienced the greatest percent decline in federal grants, including Wyoming, Utah, and North Dakota. In terms of dollars lost, Louisiana, Indiana, and Maine forfeited the highest amounts of federal grants through cuts to programs such as the WIC Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program, the Juvenile Accountability Block Grant, and public works through the Economic Development Administration.  All of these programs were cut by more than 20 percent.

Now Washington is debating if and how to halt the cuts of sequestration. The Senate and the President have both proposed budgets that replace the sequester with a mix of spending cuts and revenue increases. Senator Murray of Washington, chair of the Senate Budget Committee, held a hearing on the effects of austerity on the country’s prospects for growth, and she is soliciting comments from the public on their experiences with sequestration. It remains to be seen whether lawmakers can come together to make a deal that would stop the cuts.