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Child Watch® Column: "Children Need to Fly Too: End Sequestration"

Release Date: May 3, 2013

Marian Wright Edelman

Anyone despairing that Congress can’t get anything done should note last week’s swift vote to get furloughed air traffic controllers back to work. Congress can move very quickly and efficiently when it wants to and when their own comfort and that of constituents well-off enough to fly was affected. Reduced unemployment benefits, children dropped suddenly from Head Start programs, poor mothers and babies losing food supplements, teacher layoffs, and cancelled meal deliveries for seniors didn’t move them—but airport delays as members headed out of town for their April recess were apparently unacceptable.  Poor three- and four-year-olds denied the early child development services that can help them succeed in life may not be able to call Congress, but we need to speak out for them to stop those cuts too. We know that eliminating a child’s early education investments now will increase his chance of going to prison later by 39 percent. And paying for that prison will cost all of us nearly three times more a year than it would have cost to provide him a quality early learning foundation to get ready for school. So I hope parents and grandparents and all of us will tell our members of Congress to “be careful what you cut” because some cuts create scars that last a lifetime and public costs that drive up budget as well as human capital deficits.

When Congress flies back next week they must stop the unjust across the board cuts imposed by sequestration. And the needed fix isn’t just moving around cuts from one part of a federal agency to another as Congress did with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Sequestration is dangerous policy that is hurting many children who are homeless and hungry, the unemployed, seniors, and others across the country. This slow death by a thousand indiscriminate cuts is hindering our still sluggish economic recovery. And while the jobs numbers released this week were better than expected, millions of Americans are unemployed and have been for long periods of time. Much greater improvements are needed with greater urgency. Sequestration must be repealed so that people already suffering in multiple ways from economic downturn are not hit further while they are already down. 

The Coalition on Human Needs and others have been keeping close track of the impact of sequestration in local communities and have provided just a few examples of sequestration’s harmful effects:

  • In Michigan, $150,000 in projected federal cuts to the Head Start program in Menominee, Delta, and Schoolcraft counties are forcing the closure of the program up to three and a half weeks early for 254 children and their families.
  • College Station, Texas’s Head Start and Early Head Start will eliminate a 20-day summer instruction program because of a $99,000 sequestration cut. They will also reduce staff training, field trips, and food and eliminate child care for parents participating in training sessions.
  • In Kentucky, the Jefferson County Public Schools are losing about $6 million in federal funding and projected cuts to Title I programs for low-income, special education, and Head Start children which could affect 300 teacher and staff positions, including reading tutors and other intervention specialists who help these children catch up.
  • The Lebanon school district in Pennsylvania has a $334,000 shortfall from federal funding cuts for Title I schools even after the state provided extra funding to make up some of the sequestration cuts. School officials expect to lay off 20 elementary school teacher aides and will not fill vacancies for a literacy instructor and a 5th grade teacher. These cuts are on top of 22 positions eliminated in 2011.
  • Starting April 28, about 400,000 long-term unemployed workers in California received a 17.7 percent cut in their federal unemployment benefits because of sequestration. The average weekly unemployment check of $297 in California faces an average payment cut of $52 a week. In February, California was tied with Nevada and Mississippi as having the nation’s highest unemployment rate at 9.6 percent.
  • Faced with a nine percent sequestration cut, the Henry County Senior Center in western Illinois has shortened its transportation services for seniors by two hours per day, making it harder for them to schedule doctor appointments and food shopping.  Worse, the Center will need to cut back on some meal deliveries to homebound seniors according to Cassandra Schmoll, the center’s executive director. 
  • In New Orleans, a 17 percent decrease to the housing services budget meant the city was forced to rescind about 700 recently awarded Section 8 housing vouchers. According to officials, there were already 13,250 names on the waiting list. 
  • Approximately 3,400 AmeriCorps volunteers are expected to be cut including 600 of the 8,000 AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers, the service program designed to fight poverty. More than 1,600 seniors will lose Senior Companions who help prepare meals, drive them to medical appointments, and fill in for family caregivers. And 9,000 children will not be helped by Foster Grandparents who receive small stipends for mentoring youths in schools and juvenile justice and other community facilities.

These cuts are being or will be repeated in communities, counties, and states across our country along with cuts to legal aid societies, services for individuals with disabilities, and more.

While needlessly hurting those who need assistance most in this challenging economy, sequestration is also needlessly harming our national economic health by cutting benefits and jobs and causing furloughs. The Congressional Budget Office, the nonpartisan arbiter of budgetary impacts, estimated in February that sequestration will reduce gross domestic product growth in 2013 by 30 percent compared to what would have happened without the indiscriminate cuts. This is expected to cost the nation 750,000 jobs. While today’s jobs numbers help assuage fears of a sharp economic slowdown, the fact is that with 11.7 million Americans unemployed in April of  2013 and an unemployment rate of 7.5 percent—the 52nd consecutive month of unemployment at or above 7.5 percent—any policy that cuts jobs is a policy we cannot afford.

Our Congressional leaders need to make better choices but enough citizens must demand they do so. Don’t we want to remove more people from the unemployment rolls? Don’t we want to prevent more children from falling deeper into poverty and further behind? Instead of indiscriminate cuts under the guise of deficit reduction, we need a comprehensive strategy that includes a mix of investing in job creation and early childhood development and learning supports; tax increases for the wealthiest; and spending cuts to non-vulnerable groups to help strengthen the economy and meet the needs of children today and prepare for tomorrow’s workforce and military and future economic growth. Tomorrow is today, so contact your Representative and Senators and urge them to repeal sequestration, get about the real business of strengthening our economy, and to be careful what they cut!

Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children's Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to

Mrs. Edelman's Child Watch Column also appears each week on The Huffington Post.

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Here's what others have said:

Submitted by Mrs Lady at: May 10, 2013
We need to study the issue, pray and then ACT!! The child cannot wait. Let's all focus together on what is best for the children. Our congregations across this country need to get serious about what we are called to do. God guide our feet!!

Submitted by Fred at: May 7, 2013
Too many vital programs are being hurt. End sequestration

Submitted by Mama at: May 6, 2013
The sittuation is very serious, the programs that they are closing out are unjust. this is the time when they are most needed. Folks are really trying to work take care of their family. Day care is needed,elderly have already paid their dues in society. they should be denied nothing. they talk America but they don't act it. If the children don't get the education early some will lose insight on how important that education is. I would like to see Americans be more or just as educated as the youngster that come here already educated from other countries, In order to make this happen Early Childhood Education is more than needed. Folk need to stand up and fight hard stay on the Government. Stand up for the great American dream that is turning into a nightmare for all to see what is left of it. WE THE PEOPLE DO HAVE A VOICE and it is up to us to make sure that it is HEARD. PLEASE STAND UP.

Submitted by phyllsbc at: May 5, 2013
Kudos to Mrs. Edelman and her staff. Sequestration was a punitive move by a group of people that are far removed from everyday people. They know that austerity is ineffective.

Submitted by sandy at: May 5, 2013
We spend billions of dollars on poverty programs and education in this country, and have done so for years, actually since the war on poverty we have been throwing money at the problems of poverty and education. We have made poverty comfortable and actually rewarding, so people like staying home and receiving thousands of dollars in food stamps and cash each month. They additionally get bogus SSI for their children, because they encourage their children to act out at school; bogus SSI for themselves because they lie and say they are depressed and hear voices which no one can really prove. This seems to work for the parents, so children follow suit. I have one mother complaining to me because her 13 year old son is pressuring her to get SSI for him, but he feels she will need to hand over to him half of the monthly check, or he will squeal that she herself is not ill but receiving SSI and that she made her three other children act out at school in order to obtain SSI. Note she receives over $2400 in SSI per month, plus $900 for food stamps, plus I don't know how much from Tanf for the 1 child who isn't on SSI. So where is the hunger and poverty The Children's Defense Fund is always crying about? This abundance in poor homes is more common than not, and as I traverse NYC visiting clients at home, I see what the problems are: the government gives out too much money so who cares about school, the parents are smoking pot and watching tv and do not assist their children with succeeding in school, nor do they half discipline them, so the schools have to deal with little savages who have no respect for teachers or concerns regarding education. Let some Chinese kid come here, living in crowded poverty somewhere, going to the same raggedy schools, and where do they end up? Harvard, Yale. Why? Parents involved in making sure their kids are getting their education and giving respect. My son goes to a public High School in NY- the young adult students fight each day, curse at the teachers, threaten security guards, do no work. I have sat in the classes because I wanted to make sure my son could manage; I found the teachers are caring, concerned, knowledgeable, high percent of minority teachers, but nothing matters because these people receive no training at home. Life is too easy. So stop crying about poverty, and cry more about why we don't stop these handouts and make these people work. Then they may start to value education and the children may start to see that education is important because they are gonna have to work one day, not sit down, have babies, and get the free ride.

Submitted by Clear Seer at: May 5, 2013
Mrs. Edelman, Take off your rose colored glasses and try, just once, to see things as they are... not as they are hyped to be. Our president is not a leader and has failed to pulls us together. Conversely, he has set us back by 20 years. You are only seeing what you want to see.

Submitted by Dar at: May 4, 2013
Thank you for giving the information so I know how to write to my senator and representative. I don't understand why the 85% who do not agree with congress are not getting that message to their representatives.

Submitted by andrea313 at: May 4, 2013
“The end of democracy and the defeat of the American Revolution will occur when government falls into the hands of lending institutions and moneyed incorporations.” ― Thomas Jefferson. I think we've reached the tipping point.

Submitted by Anonymous at: May 4, 2013
Unacceptable It is time for Congress to serve our own interests not their own

Submitted by jeannieb at: May 4, 2013

Submitted by mckenzie at: May 4, 2013
We needed to learn these details. Thank you. My sister is afraid of loosing Mobile Meals in her senior housing complex. It is sinful to cut preschools and public education. Actually a whole lot of the cuts are sinful. I would be happy if the military was cut to less than 50% of the budget.

Submitted by Anonymous at: May 3, 2013
The column is good but it preaches to the choir. If we had mainstream media instead of right wing garbage the headlines across the nation would expose the hypocrisy. As is, most won't know.

Submitted by Wendy at: May 3, 2013
I continue to believe the Sequestation did not need to happen.I am disgusted with the congress,whiing and bickering and going home without tough decisions being made.THERE IS MONEY for the important things.It just depends on what people think is important.Congress complains about the entitled.Well,the congress is plenty entitled and I do not believe have been earning it lately. It used to be that Republicans and Democrats worked well together,went to lunch and socialized.Now there is so much hate speech and out childrena and ordinary citizens are suffering.I am better off than many yet I have lost a great deal in my retirement account which I worked hard for:40 years as a nurse.And while I have lost the Wall Street folks who caused the problem are raking it in.The rewards and salaries of CEOs is disgusting.There is so much greed and tax fraud and tax breaks to those who if they paid their taxes would still be wealthy.Our children are innocent!They need our care!

Submitted by Jacy at: May 3, 2013
As always, I'm impressed with the vision and ability to articulate that vision which Mrs. Edelman exhibits so well! I am grateful! Joyce Veterane

Submitted by CoJ654 at: May 3, 2013
Congress causes more problems than it solves. With the extremely poor performance and greed of the members of Congress has shown that the American people no longer need the type of Congress we have. We need a more environmental people-oriented Congress. One free of bribery by lobbyists, free of political party influence. Once a politician is elected, they must abandon all party influence and just work for what is best for the people and the environment.

Submitted by Bernadette at: May 3, 2013
These cuts are so obscene that they are unspeakable but we must speak and teach about them. I am a college instructor part time and child care director full time. I teach all my classes about the legislative process and how they can have a voice to stop these things and help them understand how these policies and cuts hurt all of us. If you teach please join me. I was told high school students no longer are always taught civics.

Submitted by Retired Teacher at: May 3, 2013
I see a lot of panic that elite bureaucrats might lose their privileged jobs. I don't see any concern for the children who will inherit the burden of government debt. How sad.

Submitted by funds cutting harmful effects at: May 3, 2013
I'm am a single mom on SSDI as my only form of income with two special needs children that are barely getting any help at all. Please don't cut the only means of living that we little people depend on to live and strive day to day. We need a voice too

Submitted by slate at: May 3, 2013
i strongly deeply agree w/Marian Wright Edelman on job creation and early childhood development and learning investmants and stop cutting those in this budget crunch!!!

Submitted by userpeg at: May 3, 2013
I suggest you write to the White House and ask the President to end it. It is his plan. He created it.