The Common Good

The Sequester: Pocket Change?

“I believe the sequester is a pittance.”

Alex Wong/Getty Images
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) leaves after a caucus meeting at the Capitol in February. Alex Wong/Getty Images

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Those were conservative Sen. Rand Paul’s words in an opinion piece this week about the sequester – severe and arbitrary cuts to the federal budget that Congress did nothing to stop. We could give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he hasn’t seen the numbers:

  • The nutrition program for women with children — WIC — will have to turn away 600,000 to 775,000 women, many of whom have young children.
  • The 3.8 million currently unemployed workers will have their support cut by 11 percent.
  • 100,000 low-income families will lose their housing vouchers.
  • 125,000 individuals and families are now at risk of homelessness.

That doesn’t sound like a “pittance” to me. That sounds like the difference between having a home and living on the street; the difference between a child eating dinner and a child going to bed hungry. If lawmakers are looking at these numbers and suggesting that they don’t matter, there is a serious moral problem in our country.

These effects are multiplied by the fact that nonprofit organizations across the country who partner with the government have also had their budgets cut severely.

As an example, the Meals on Wheels program in my hometown just lost $250,000 in funding. This branch of the nationwide program serves meals to 1,200 people across Maryland who are unable to cook for themselves because of age or illness, and will likely have to cut back to providing meals only four days a week. How can we say that an extra day without a hot meal is a “pittance?”

Some of the other budget cuts affect programs that might not be specifically targeted at low-income communities but will still affect them disproportionately. Those are things like job training, foreclosure prevention, aid to children with special needs, and many others. A well-off family might be able to pay for these things on their own; but for many families government programs are the only option.

Food for nursing mothers and young children. Homes for families. A hot meal for an elderly couple with no family nearby. Sen. Paul claims that the sequester does not “eviscerate” the federal budget, but it is surprisingly effective at gutting the programs closest to our hearts.

We can’t balance the budget on the backs of the poor. Sure, deficit reduction is an important long-term priority, and there are some areas of the budget we can easily cut back on (defense spending and oil subsidies, anyone?), but it is simply wrong to blindly cut programs that are providing real help for people who need it.  

As the sequester hits, it seems that those who were least inclined to do their job and protect the poor have started to downplay the effects rather than take responsibility. They hide behind the relatively small percent of the federal budget represented by the sequester cuts, rather than acknowledging that even small cuts to critical programs can have a devastating impact.

This is not responsible governing. This is not even responsible debate. This is a case of policymakers telling blatant falsehoods to disguise the fact that they did nothing to protect programs like WIC and Meals on Wheels. 

The way we treat the poor reflects our values as a nation. We cannot allow conservative lawmakers to pretend that this does not matter.

Janelle Tupper is Campaigns Assistant for Sojourners.

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