Often when people talk about the federal budget they speak only of the numbers. As people of faith we are called to look beyond figures to the faces they represent. We must prayerfully reflect on the impact our budget has on individuals and our society. We have assembled some examples of programs that have been targeted for cuts in the current budget and in fiscal year 2012. Take a moment to reflect on what impact these cuts could have and how they shape our world.
To learn more about specific justice issues that may be addressed by the 112th Congress download our 2011-2012 Briefing Book.
Women and Families
Proposed cuts to the FY2012 federal budget could have a devastating affect on women and children. Teen pregnancy prevention programs, prenatal care programs, support for elderly women on social security, family planning programs and funding for Head Start and nutritional programs for women and their children could be eliminated or reduced drastically. For women and families already living with minimal income, such cuts could result in more Americans living in poverty. Job training initiatives and educational incentive programs are also threaten with severe reductions so women seeking to gain the education and skills they need to support their families will find it even more difficult to do so.
Domestic appropriations are only about 15% of the budget; cuts in them can reduce services for millions of people but cannot make much of a dent in the federal budget deficit. It’s a case of much pain, little gain.
House Resolution 1 (H.R. 1) passed by the newly elected members of the House of Representatives slashes many programs that protect vulnerable people.
The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) provides assistance to eligible low-income families to help pay their heating and cooling bills. H. R. 1 cuts LIHEAP by $213 million or 30%. Similarly, H. R. 1 cuts nearly $ 1.1 billion or 43 %, from the Public Housing Capital Fund which helps local housing agencies across the country make needed repairs, such as fixing boilers and roofs, to public housing units for approximately 1.2 million low-income households. Most of these households have incomes well below the poverty line and two thirds include an elderly person or someone with a disability. Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
Head Start and Early Childhood Education
Closing the achievement gap before Kindergarten makes all the difference. Among the factors contributing to high school graduation is quality pre-school including Head Start. Here children develop pre-reading skills, making it likely that by fourth grade they have the facility to use reading for exploration of other subjects. Excellent readers don’t spend the rest of their school years catching up.
- Proposed cuts to Head Start in the 2011 House Budget would eliminate 218,220 current places for children, cutting 16,000 classrooms.
- Budget cuts threaten 150,000 additional federally subsidized places for poor children in other early education programs.
- Today, even before budget cuts, only one of six eligible children receives federal childcare assistance. Less than half of eligible children find spaces in Head Start and only 4 percent of eligible infants and toddlers can participate in Early Head Start.
October 2011: Real cuts in state budgets for the 2011-2012 school year and threatened cuts in the federal budget directly imperil course offerings, co-curricular activities, class size, and availability of all-day kindergargen and enriched pre-school programs across the states. Two new reports from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Campaign for America's Future explain what revenue shortfalls mean for particular states and school districts. And, an October 10, Witness for Justice column examines federal and state budget priorities as they affect children and public schools.
Because two-year federal stimulus funding has run out and state budgets are in crisis, federal cuts to education will only deepen catastrophic state cuts—eliminating nurses, closing school libraries and literacy programs, and raising class size. Cuts especially affect children in districts lacking local property wealth.
Essential federal budget priorities for public education include:
- Stable funding must be preserved for three essential federal programs for students with particular needs: Title I to support the education of children in poverty; programs for English language learners; and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
- The Administration proposes de-emphasizing the Title I formula and moving toward competitive, incentive grants. Congress should not allocate Title I funds through a competition, but instead through a formula that ensures the rights of all children who quality.
The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act aims to prevent/reduce youth crime and violence. The President’s proposed FY12 budget would cut funding for the JJPA by combining two separate funding streams to create a new “Juvenile Justice System Incentives Grant,” to be awarded competitively to a select number of states. The restructured program would receive $10 million less than the current level of funding from the two existing funding streams combined and would, therefore, threaten key goals of the JJPA, such as requiring states to take steps to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in the juvenile justice system.
Treatment and Prevention Programs as an Alternative to Prison
The administration claims to seek an approach in justice dollars that balances prevention, treatment, and domestic and international law enforcement. Despite these claims, the justice budget will allocate most of its resources to law enforcement, with only 40% to treatment and prevention. Putting people in prison is extremely expensive, and prisons are overcrowded. We need to ensure accountability while keeping people in their families, homes and communities. There are two key approaches to responsible reduction of the wildly burgeoning prison population: treatment programs to address substance abuse and mental illness, and prevention programs to give youth alternatives to incarceration.
Homeland security is one of the few areas that will see significant increases in the 2012 budget. Among them is money for 275 new full body scanners and new explosives detection systems for US airports. Cyber-security is also a focus for homeland security, as are the addition of border patrol agents and improved cargo screening at foreign ports of entry. These increases are supported by the administration and the House of Representatives, and are likely to be sustained. In contrast, the 2012 federal budget will cut programs for the neediest, including Head Start and WIC, children’s health services, and energy assistance programs. These areas are sustaining disproportionate cuts because budget balancing is focused on only about 13% of the full federal budget, leaving the majority of budget categories (including defense and homeland security) untouched.
We can advocate for drawing cuts from the full budget, and not from social programs alone.
Massive cuts are proposed for the Environmental Protection Agency. Those funds are meant to address climate change through reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and to enforce the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts. Other proposed cuts would:
- Prohibit funds for the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and NOAA Climate Service.
- Cut $8.4 million for EPA’s “Greenhouse Gas Registry.”
- Cut $10 million in EPA grants.
- Stop EPA rules on certain coal mining procedures and limits on pollution by the cement industry.
- Block specific EPA actions such as enforcing clean water guidelines in Florida and the cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay.
These cuts will block basic environmental safeguards and allow carbon and other pollution to pour into our air and water from fossil fuel plants and refineries. It will unravel forty years of Clean Air Act enforcement and gut any attempts to cut carbon pollution and curb climate change.
When defunding public broadcasting, it is the most vulnerable who are hurt. The House is threatening to completely defund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. This virtually eliminates support for non-commercial media in this country, but even worse, it disproportionately hurts communities of color, tribal communities and poor communities. A great example is WMMT-FM in Eastern Kentucky – which serves 50 rural counties with very little other local media. WMMT-FM would be off the air if their CPB funding is cut. This station doesn’t broadcast NPR, choosing instead to produce local news for Tennessee and Virginia.
One proposal cuts $4 billion from the Federal Aviation Administration’s $37 billion budget. This will mean staff reductions, including reductions in safety inspectors. These cuts will come on top of what chronic under-staffing. Tight finances within the FAA already limit inspections in foreign repair stations where U.S. airlines are increasingly sending work. See “Forcing the F.A.A. to fly blind.” The Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission are both charged with additional oversight roles in the aftermath of the financial meltdown. But existing budget restrictions are limiting the agencies’ ability to carry out their new tasks and concerns about future cuts are an added constraint, severely hindered their effectiveness. See “Patrolling Wall Street on the cheap.”
U.S. Institute of Peace
The U.S. Institute of Peace ($42 million) may have all its funding cut. This is short sighted and wrong. Its entire budget is less than what we spend for one day of military operations in Afghanistan and is minuscule compared to the $158 Billion that is included to fund military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Cutting funding for USIP not only eliminates an important institution that works in a bipartisan fashion for peace, but sends a message to the world that America cares little about envisioning and working for a Just Peace.
Global Food Aid
H.R.1, the proposed Full-Year Continuing Resolution for FY 2011, includes significant cuts in U.S. international food aid programs, impacting already vulnerable populations such as children and the world’s poorest. USAID programs such as Food for Peace and International Disaster Assistance would see close to a 50% reduction as would the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education Program. These cuts would further exacerbate the challenges faced by poor countries that are reeling from increasing food prices and the impact of climate change. In a world of such plenty, passing a budget that increases hunger and creates insecurity is not only against U.S. interests, but runs against our faith convictions that calls us to care for those in need.
Budget cuts pose a serious threat to U.S. refugee resettlement programs. A 45 % cut to the Migration and Refugee Assistance Account is proposed by the House. “Cutting a budget by half in the second half of the year could shut a program down,“ explained Jen Smyers, from Church World Service. The resettlement network wouldn’t have the funds to operate, nor would states be reimbursed for their care. The International Disaster Account may face a 67% cut. It serves hundreds of thousands of refugees in camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Thailand and in Colombia with food aid, health care and shelter.
When Cutting a Budget Item is a Good Thing – Sexuality Education
A bill has been introduced in Congress to cut $50 million from Abstinence-only-until-marriage funding and transfer that amount of money in a state funding stream for the Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP), a more comprehensive sexuality education program.
To date, the federal government has spent more than $1.5 billion on abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. Congress continues to provide $50 million each year for abstinence only programs, despite a 10-year Congressionally mandated evaluation that showed that these programs have no impact on teen behavior.
PREP currently provides $75 million each year in first-of-its-kind state grant funding for comprehensive sex education programs that have been scientifically evaluated to have a measurable impact.