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Surprise, Surprise: Poor Will Suffer Most From Sequestration Cuts

Ilana Novick

While recent CBS and Gallup polls show that most Americans remain divided over whether or not the recent sequestration cuts are in fact negative, many low-income families are already bracing for their impact. SNAP benefits and the Children's Health Insurance Program may be safe, but WIC benefits and certain housing vouchers are scheduled to take a blow, leaving many families without resources to fall back on. 

According to a report from the National WIC Association, the supplemental nutrition assistance program for women and children, know as WIC, will experience a 9.3% cut as a non-exempt discretionary program through sequestration. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that approximately 775,000 women and children who will lose access to what a recent New York Times article calls "one of the most effective social programs in government, reducing anemia and increasing birth weights."

Housing programs will also be hit especially hard, with many public housing authorities facing a 5.1% budget cut. 125,000 individuals and families may be at risk of homelessness, according to estimates from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, with an additional 100,000 formerly homeless people set to lose the same benefits that got them out of homelessness in the first place. In some cases, as Adrianne Todman, the head of the Washington, D.C. housing authority told the Times the cuts mean delays in basic maintainance repairs, leave open staff positions unfilled, and units open longer as residents move out.

For residents of some local public housing authorities, like New York City's, with its 380,000 backlog of repairs as of a 2012 report, this an extra, though not entirely surprising insult. As one resident told the New York Daily News, “I still don’t have a bedroom door and it’s been four years. My repair date is December 2014." It's hard to imagine that a 5.1% cut will do anything to improve the already dire situation. 

In King County in Washington State, which includes Seattle, some are already finding out the answer, as crucial housing vouchers are denied, “Sequestration will result in some 600 fewer families in our local communities receiving crucial rental assistance over the next year,” Stephen Norman, the executive director of the county housing authority, told the New York Times

This is not solely an urban housing problem either. Cuts to the Department of Agriculture would result in the elimination of rental assistance for 10,000 very low-income rural people, according to Mother Jones, most of whom are single women, elderly, or disabled.

The list goes on, but despite the mounting evidence, many Republican leaders continue to refer to the sequester as "a pittance", as Kentucky Senator Rand Paul noted in a recent editorial. Senator Mitch McConnell called the cuts "modest", and said that "we have a spending addiction in Washington."

At the same time, conservative interest groups like the Koch brothers-led Americans for Prosperity are praising representatives like House Speaker John Boehner for not negotiating with the White House, saying in a recent email to the Huffington Post that "With the sequester, Congress made a promise to the American people to cut spending. They deserve to be congratulated for actually keeping that promise." 

Of course, as the poll numbers show, many Americans have yet to feel the effects of the cuts, which makes it easier to believe these arguments. This doesn't mean that might change, even for non low-income Americans. Scientists dependent on NIH grants have already gotten notices warning them of potential interruptions to their work. Rich and poor parents alike will also be scrambling to find appropriate care for their special needs children, who face  cuts of $1 billion in federal funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The poorest Americans, as often happens, will feel the biggest squeeze, but even middle and upper middle class Americans may be affected. When they are, perhaps it will be an opportunity for more action to prevent further pain for everyone.