This piece originally appeared in The Hill's Congress Blog on February 29.
Advocates for human needs breathed an audible sigh of relief this past December when Congress reached a budget agreement that prevented the next round of sequestration cuts from taking place. And congressional action helped: of 164 human needs programs tracked by my organization, 80 did see funding increases. Still, progress was modest; 73 of the programs were flat-funded, and 11 were cut.
More investments in human needs programs could have been made if Congress gave these programs their fair share. But they didn’t – the departments with most low-income programs increased by only 3.6 percent, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Funding for the rest of appropriations averaged a 6.9 percent increase.
If we take the longer view, funding for human needs has not prospered this decade – indeed, we have taken too many steps backward too often. A Coalition on Human Needs analysis released this week shows that over the past six years, dating back to fiscal year 2010, funding for many of our country’s most important priorities has shrunk.
Our findings: 139 out of 164 human needs programs suffered cuts; only 25 grew. Nearly half – 67 programs – were cut by 15 percent or more, far exceeding inflation. Even more disturbing, nearly one-third – 54 programs – were slashed by 25 percent or more.
The news gets worse when we step back and examine what was cut. Consider:
- We know there is bipartisan interest in helping those who have been imprisoned to return successfully to society’s mainstream. But we have cut job training to assist in reintegrating ex-offenders by 26.2 percent.
- People from across the political spectrum understand the scourge of substance abuse – for example, witness the stories that have emerged from coast to coast about opiate addiction. But we have slashed one substance abuse treatment program by 33 percent.
- We’ve seen the heartbreaking stories out of Flint about lead poisoning, and we know that Flint is just the surface of the problem. And yet: we have eviscerated funding for the CDC Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention/Healthy Homes to the tune of 55.6 percent and cut lead poisoning prevention at the Department of Housing and Urban Development by 28.6 percent.
That’s not all. We need skilled teachers. But we’ve cut a state grant program for improving teacher quality by 27.5 percent. We know there is an affordable housing crisis. Our response? To cut the Public Housing Capital Fund by a whopping 30.9 percent.
It’s not all gloom and doom. For example, funding for Head Start and child care has increased, although both fall short of actual need. Refugee assistance has more than doubled, increasing by 108 percent. But then again, the world’s refugee problem, as we all know, is much worse than it was seven years ago, with the greatest number of people now displaced from their homes than at any time since World War II.
Why all the cuts since 2010? Congress enacted caps on annual appropriations that have been in effect since fiscal year 2011, and they have taken their toll. Sequestration cuts go even deeper – that’s why it’s so important that Congress limited them this year and next, and should quickly prevent them from coming back in the years beyond.
So what should come next? As we look ahead to this year’s budget deliberations and beyond, much is at risk for the most vulnerable Americans. We need Congress to recognize that an investment in people is an investment in our economy, which would benefit everyone. We are seeing the harm now from years of cuts. It is time to rebuild.
To see the Coalition on Human Needs’ complete analysis of budget cuts since fiscal year 2010, please visit this link: http://bit.ly/1PZVgUS