By Representative Adam Schiff
This past February I authored a column in this paper warning of the damage sequestration--the automatic, across the board cuts to almost every federal program--would have on the country. The cuts slice everything from education to medical research, transportation and housing, indiscriminately targeting the efficient with the inefficient, the essential with the inessential.
Worse, sequestration provides no cushion for vulnerable populations, such as seniors, those living in poverty or the disabled, who most rely on these programs just to survive.
It was my hope that members of Congress would heed the warnings of scholars and economists--who almost without exception--predicted that cutting federal spending in such a way would cost millions of jobs and slow the progress of our recovery. As I noted then, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), allowing sequestration to go into effect would cut economic growth in 2013 by 50%. Six months have passed, with little action from Congress, and now the devastating effects are being felt across the country, and right here in our community.
Last month, the children of Franklin Elementary School eagerly returned to class on the first day of school, as did over 640,000 other students enrolled in the Los Angeles Unified School District, whose funding had been cut by $37 million. Unsurprisingly, crucial programs like Head Start, special education and after school programs have suffered. Over 8,000 children in our community, who would otherwise benefit from early childhood education, will miss out, this year alone. If the sequester goes on much longer, these children will miss their one chance for a head start.
The federal spending cuts are not just hitting our schools.
Workers at the Los Feliz post office have seen the effects of the postal service laying off over 19,000 employees this year, and the Dept. of Housing and Urban Developments has been forced to dramatically cut low income housing vouchers, resulting in rising rents for those in poverty and increased homelessness.
Projects such as the Griffith Park "Vision Plan" and the Los Angeles River Feasibility Study have also been slowed as a result of local and federal budget cuts. Cuts to police and fire are threatening public safety, while reduced funding for the National Institutes of Health's research, vaccines, mental health services and AIDS and HIV testing are putting the health of the public at risk.
Although damage has already been done by these irresponsible cuts, it is not too late to change course. As Congress once again considers budget negotiations in the upcoming weeks, replacing sequestration with a balanced plan--that combines targeted cuts with revenues from eliminating tax loopholes for special interests--must be part of any agreement.