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The Impact of the Sequester on Communities Across America

House Speaker John Boehner

SOURCE: AP/J. Scott Applewhite

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) meets with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, February 14, 2013.

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State-by-state tables detailing the impact of the sequester on selected programs are also available in the PDF.

In just one week our nation faces yet another manufactured fiscal crisis. This time a refusal to compromise by conservative leaders in Congress would lead to massive, damaging across-the-board spending cuts on March 1, potentially dragging the economy back into recession and hurting American families by slashing critical investments in job training, public health, and public safety.

The spending cuts, also known as the “sequester,” are a direct result of a long push by conservatives to take the nation’s economy hostage in order to secure massive, harmful spending cuts. In the summer of 2011, in exchange for agreeing to pay America’s bills, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) negotiated the deal that wrote the sequester into law, stating that he had gotten 98 percent of what he wanted. Though there is a concerted effort to blame the president for the sequester, no amount of whitewashing can erase the fact that many conservative members of Congress voted for this plan.

Under the terms of the sequester, federal spending would be cut by $1.2 trillion from March 2013 to March 2021. States stand to lose billions of dollars in critical grants needed to fund everything from schools to new police officers to parks. In fiscal year 2013 alone, states stand to lose an estimated $6.4 billion in federal funding. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that as many as 750,000 jobs could be lost because of the sequester. Taking a meat cleaver to spending in such a blunt, unfocused manner would send a shockwave through our economy and would hurt countless American families. Just months ago, leading Republicans such as Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) agreed, saying that these cuts would “devastate” the country.

But now, several prominent congressional Republicans are saying they would prefer the harmful spending cuts to a balanced approach that would close wasteful tax loopholes for millionaires and special interests. This choice to reject measures to replace the sequester with a smarter, more balanced mix of spending cuts and new revenue has devastating consequences for our economy and real-life implications for families across the United States. By choosing to protect millionaires and special interests instead of asking them to pay their fair share in taxes, intransigent members of Congress are threatening drastic cuts to vital programs, including:

  • Education. Instead of investing in our children’s future, the spending cuts would hurt students of all ages across the United States. The indiscriminate cuts would slash funding that helps some of our youngest children succeed, cut funding for teachers, and reduce grants and work-study programs. Among other education programs, the sequester would cut more than $400 million from Head Start, a program that provides at-risk preschoolers with education, health, nutrition, and family-support services. These cuts would force roughly 70,000 young children out of the Head Start program. The sequester would also slash nearly $725 million from Title I—the largest federal-funded education program in the United States—meaning schools serving more than 1 million disadvantaged students would be left struggling to pay for teachers and tutors. Texas, for example, could lose more than $67 million in Title I education funding, meaning local schools could be forced to furlough teachers.
  • Public safety. The sequester cuts threaten to make our communities less safe. The across-the-board spending cuts would mean fewer firefighters protecting us and less security monitoring our nation’s flight systems. Because of the sequester, programs such as Assistance to Firefighters Grants, or FIRE, and Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, or SAFER, which help local fire departments meet their equipment and staffing needs, would be cut by an estimated combined amount of more than $35 million. This could lead to understaffed fire departments working without necessary, critical equipment. Additionally, the sequester would include cuts to the Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA, and the Transportation Security Administration, or TSA. Possible furloughs in the Federal Aviation Administration and the Transportation Security Administration would mean more delayed flights and even longer wait times at the airport.
  • Public health. The sequester would have disastrous consequences to our public health. Programs that help fight hunger and make us healthier are on the chopping block. The sequester would cut funding to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, for example, resulting in more than 2,100 fewer food inspections across the nation. This means an increased likelihood for tainted food reaching American dinner tables. Senior nutrition programs, which help to provide congregate and home-delivered meals to the elderly, would face cuts of more than $43 million, meaning that countless seniors could go hungry. The sequester would also cut more than $18 million from HIV prevention and testing programs, leading to 450,000 fewer HIV screenings. That would mean 38,000 fewer HIV screenings in Florida alone. Few programs escape the sequester axe, including the National Institutes of Health, or NIH. Although the National Institutes of Health plays an important role in advancing medical research in the United States leading to groundbreaking new products, services, and technologies, the sequester could reduce NIH awards by more than $1 billion, and result in the loss of more than 20,000 jobs.
  • Workforce training. The spending cuts championed by deficit hawks would impede the American workforce that has been struggling to recover from the recession. The sequester would reduce funding for key programs such as the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment Services Operations and Job Corps. Employment Services helps connect workers looking for local employment opportunities. Under the sequester, Employment Services would be cut by more than $37 million, leading to more than 830,000 fewer workers receiving services. In Ohio that could mean more than 30,000 fewer workers would receive Employment Services. Additionally, Job Corps, which provides economically at-risk youths with jobs and academic training, could be cut by more than $83 million. Cuts to these services would be a blow to the unemployed, especially the long-term unemployed who may lose 10 percent of their benefits due to sequestration.
  • Women’s health and child care. The sequester could leave hundreds of thousands of women to fend for themselves and for their families. The sequester would slash a number of federal programs that help women access critical health care programs and child care assistance. The program that provides low-income, uninsured, and underinsured women access to breast and cervical cancer screening and diagnostic testing would be cut by more than $8 million. Cuts to this program could mean more than 31,000 fewer cancer screenings for women, including 1,750 fewer screenings in North Dakota. The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children also could be forced to cut almost 600,000 participants, endangering the health of our children.

American families and our economy simply cannot afford the sequester. To expect American families to shoulder the entire burden of deficit reduction would mean turning a blind eye to the families who would be less safe, less healthy, and less prepared for modern workforce demands. It is time for congressional leaders to act responsibly and face the reality that new revenue from closing wasteful tax loopholes must be part of the equation in addressing the deficit.

Anna Chu is the CAP War Room Policy Director at the Center for American Progress.


In order to estimate the effect of the sequester on fiscal year 2013 nondefense discretionary grants to states, we started by taking the federal aid to states outlays from 2010, 2008, 2007, and 2006 to determine the relative share of discretionary spending each state receives. (We omitted 2009 because of the distorting effects of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.) Mandatory, defense spending, grants from the Department of Transportation and Department of Veterans’ Affairs were removed. We then took the Office of Management and Budget’s overall figure for discretionary grants to states, minus grants from the Department of Transportation and Department of Veterans’ Affairs, for fiscal year 2012 and increased that by 0.612 percent—the increase from the fiscal year 2013 CR—in order to obtain an estimate of the nondefense discretionary grants to states subject to sequester. We then used the average of each state’s respective share of grants to estimate the amount of each state’s federal funding that is subject to the sequester. Lastly, we multiplied this figure by 5.3 percent to determine the estimated reduction in nondefense discretionary grants to each state.

In order to estimate the effect of the sequester on HIV Testing, Seniors Nutrition, Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening and Diagnostic Testing, Employment Services, and Job Corps, we first took the fiscal year 2012 funding levels for each of these programs and then increased that by 0.612 percent—the increase from the fiscal year 2013 CR—to obtain an estimate of the fiscal year 2013 funding levels. We then multiplied this by 5.3 percent to determine the estimated reduction in these programs caused by the sequester. To determine the number of people who would no longer receive HIV tests, we took the estimated sequester cut and divided it by the estimated cost of the HIV tests. To determine the number of people who would no longer receive breast and cervical cancer screenings, we took the estimated sequester cut and divided it by the estimated cost of the screenings.

In order to estimate the impact of the sequester on the Assistance to Firefighters Grant, or FIRE, program and the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, or SAFER, program, we first took the FIRE and SAFER award levels for fiscal year 2011. (The fiscal year 2012 awards are not yet complete.) We then used each state’s respective share of grants to estimate each state’s federal funding for fiscal year 2013. We multiplied this by 5.3 percent to obtain the estimated reduction in FIRE and SAFER grants for each state from the sequester.

The impact of the sequester on funding to the National Institutes of Health is courtesy of a report by United for Medical Research. The impact of the sequester on funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children is courtesy of a report by the National WIC Association. The impact of the sequester on Childcare Assistance and Head Start is courtesy of a report by the House Appropriations Committee Democratic Staff. The impact of the sequester on other education programs is courtesy of materials prepared by the Department of Education.

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