The Senate has just passed the debt ceiling deal that President Obama and Republicans struck on Sunday night to raise the debt limit while simultaneously cutting $2 trillion in federal spending over the next decade. The first set of cuts will amount to over $917 billion over ten years and the next round of $1.5 trillion will be decided by a committee of twelve lawmakers evenly divided between the two parties and two chambers. If this bipartisan congressional committee cannot come to an agreement on cuts, automatic cuts will be triggered threatening programs like Medicare and Medicaid.
While the deal theoretically leaves open the debate on where the cuts will come from, we know large chunks of government spending, like defense, have a strong lobby and are unlikely to suffer drastic cuts – despite the fact that they make up a significant portion of the budget. Using past negotiations as a barometer, discretionary spending, Medicaid, social security and other safety net programs will be on the chopping block. At a time when need is at an all time high, and the economy continues to limp along, cutting vital programs that help Americans weather bad times will have devastating impacts on individuals, communities, and ultimately the economy.
Federal programs that provide funding to states and localities, as well as directly to nonprofits have already sustained significant cuts over the past three years. These programs include job training programs, youth employment programs, early child development programs, and affordable housing and low-income rental assistance programs. These programs help people find work and housing, keep children safe, and create local jobs. These cuts also have a double impact on the local economy – not only will they affect individuals’ ability to make ends meet – they also result in layoffs and closures at nonprofits, which are a vital economic engine.
Cuts to federal programs will also leave states with large deficits and no way to bridge the gap. Federal stimulus programs helped states weather some of the economic crisis, but now that those funds have run out, states have found themselves with multi-billion dollar deficits.New YorkState, for example, cut over $300 million to human services programs this year alone.
One of the biggest failures of the debt ceiling deal is the lack of revenue options that would help close the deficit and save vital programs. The economy and the budget cannot be balanced on the back of poor and working class Americans alone; shared sacrifice is needed. Without soup kitchens, senior services and housing assistance, people who are in the most need of help will have nowhere to turn. Without employment training, child care, and youth programs, hard working Americans will not be able to find and keep jobs. Without the safety net, the economy will not thrive because individuals and communities will continue to struggle.
Congress has passed and the President has signed this debt ceiling bill into law, but there is still a fight ahead. As the committee of twelve is formed and begins to debate and propose spending cuts, we must continue to advocate for the programs our communities still desperately need. Call and write your members of Congress and tell them how important these programs are and to consider fair tax reforms that address the widening gap between the rich and poor. To contact your members of Congress click here.
Contributed by Michelle Jackson and Shana Mosher of the Human Services Council