Just two months after the last fiscal cliff threat, we’re in sight of yet another one.
If the sequester is allowed to go into effect on March 1 (just one week from today), fewer Michigan kids will be served by Head Start, emergency shelters will lose support and heating assistance to low-income households will be cut.
Congress is unlikely to take up discussion of taxes in this round of negotiations (most were resolved permanently by the American Tax Payer Relief Act earlier this year). Instead, the new fiscal cliff is all about how to avoid the spending cuts required by sequestration.
Though the American Tax Payer Relief Act (signed into law on Jan. 1, 2013) provided temporary relief from the threat of sequestration and reduced the spending cuts required in 2013, it did not do away with the sequester once and for all. Many important programs that help low- and middle-income Michiganians are slated for budget cuts in the upcoming sequester – unless Congress replaces it with a balanced alternative:
• Education: Michigan stands to lose $84.7 million in total education funds – including $13.7 million to Head Start (affecting 1,800 young children children); $20.5 million in Special Education grants (affecting 9,665 students); and $27.3 million in Title I grants (risking the academic potential of 30,590 low-income children).
• Housing: The sequester will impact some of the most vulnerable Michiganians, including 2,680 low-income families who may lose the rental assistance vouchers that helps them avoid homelessness. In addition, many already homeless Michiganians will face additional obstacles in finding safe housing, when the state loses an estimated $3.78 million for housing and emergency shelter.
• Heating and cooling: Hard-working but low-earning households, who receive energy assistance, will have a harder time heating their homes during the winter, and cool their homes in hot summer weather. Rising energy costs and the sequester will lower the average aid in Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program from $405 to just $375 per household.
• Nutrition: An estimated 17,400 low-income mothers with infants and young children in Michigan will lose food and nutritional assistance.
Our state relies heavily on the federal government to provide important services to Michiganians of all income levels. Over 41% the state’s total budget is composed of federal funds. It is important that Michiganians of all political stripes demand that, in this and future rounds of negotiations, Congress replaces the sequester with a responsible alternative that protects low-income programs and grows the middle class.
The Senate majority took a step in the right direction when it introduced a new fiscal cliff bill that would require a 1:1 ratio of revenue to spending cuts, protect many vital programs for working families, and ask wealthy households and corporations to contribute a little more to the economic health of our nation. This bill is expected to be voted on next week.
We thank the Senate for its efforts, and hope that future budget negotiations in both chambers of Congress will follow in its footsteps.
— Yannet Lathrop