Credit: Courtesy of Meals on Wheels Association of America.
(WOMENSENEWS)--This summer, 10 Head Start teachers in Lorain County, Ohio, lost their jobs and Hamilton, Ohio, stopped providing transportation to medical appointments or grocery stores for residents between 60 and 66 years old.
"These cuts might not sound like much," said Wendy Patton, senior policy director of Policy Matters Ohio, a nonprofit research institute with offices in Cleveland and Columbus, in a phone interview. "But when you are a 60-year-old disabled woman who is trying to get by on less than $1,400 a month, there is no money for transportation."
She added that single mothers who are juggling low-paying jobs and trying to build a better future for their kids have been blindsided by cuts in Head Start, because many of them cannot afford child care and must cut back on work. More cuts to Head Start programs in Ohio and other states are expected in September.
Sequester--the automatic $85 billion across-the-board spending cuts in the federal budget for fiscal 2013 that took effect March 1--is taking a severe toll on low-income women who are dependent upon safety net programs to survive. It's also taking money from services such as domestic violence shelters.
The across-the-board federal cuts took $184 million out of Ohio's budget in 2013, reports Policy Matters Ohio.
"Many low-income people who are barely surviving today will be pushed over the edge," said Larry J. Tomayko, chief of staff of Meals on Wheels Association of America, which is based in Alexandria, Va., and in 2012 provided one million meals a day to seniors. "Hunger, poverty and despair will escalate unless sequester ends and federal financing for safety net programs is restored."
Tomayko added: "Ninety-year-old women who live alone in five-story walkups or homes 10 miles from the nearest grocery and whose meals are delivered by volunteers haven't shown up in Congress to protest the loss of $51 million in funds for senior meals in fiscal 2013."
The nonprofit organization, which includes 5,000 local senior nutrition programs, has been hard hit by the sequester. One-in-six programs have closed congregate meal sites or ended home deliveries. Over 70 percent of programs have increased waiting lists on average to 58 seniors.
"Two-thirds of our clients are women over 75 years old who live alone and have six or more health problems," said Tomayko. "In addition to hunger, many clients are feeling the impact of sequester cuts in housing and other programs."
To decrease the national debt by $1.2 trillion over 10 years, the Budget Control Act of 2011 mandated cuts split evenly by dollar amounts between defense and domestic programs.
Giant safety net programs, such as Social Security and Medicaid, were protected from the 5 percent cut for domestic programs in fiscal 2013, but not smaller programs.
The Justice Department's Office on Women and Violence estimates that the sequester cut more than $26 million in appropriations under the Violence Against Women Act and the Family Violence Protection Services Act, which fund grants to state and local agencies to prosecute domestic-violence crimes; provide shelter programs, legal assistance, child services and training for police and victim advocates.
"The sequester created a perfect storm that will deprive about 526,000 victims of services in fiscal 2013," predicted Kim Gandy, president and CEO of the Washington-based National Network to End Domestic Violence, an advocacy group of state domestic violence coalitions, allied organizations and individuals.
"Unfortunately, shelters across the country are closing their doors or decreasing staff, so fewer numbers of women and children can be accommodated," said Gandy in a phone interview. "Intervention programs have also been decimated, leaving many victims without assistance in obtaining support, protection orders and navigating the court system."
Gandy said that as victims lose services many are returning to their perpetrators out of desperation. "This is dangerous because each day, an average of three women is killed by current or former partners."
The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, known as WIC, missed the axe of sequestration.
The White House predicted in February that 600,000 low-income women and children would be deprived of food, nutrition education and breastfeeding support in fiscal 2013.
However, President Barack Obama signed a bill in March that spared the nutrition program that assists half of all infants born in the United States, along with the nuclear weapons program and other domestic and defense programs.
"There is a lot of anxiety and confusion about what cuts in maternal and child health programs will mean at the local level because these programs have long-term consequences," said Brent Ewig, director for public policy and government affairs of the Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs, an organization of state public health leaders based in Alexandria, Va.
Many states and cities have shifted money from one maternal and child health program to another since March to insulate vulnerable people from the sequester, Ewig said.
The pressure on states and local governments to provide vital services is increasing, however, and these stop-gap measures may be impossible in the months ahead.
The Washington-based Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit research organization, estimates that sequester cuts decreased federal funding for state grants in fiscal 2013 by $5.1 billion. The federal government provides roughly one-third of total state revenues.
In fiscal 2014, sequester will take $92 billion from the federal budget, reports the Office of Management and Budget. Next year Congress will have more leeway to decide which federal agencies receive cuts if the sequester continues.
In Congress, a bitter battle over sequester cuts is expected this fall.
Senate Democrats are moving ahead with spending bills that ignore the second year of across-the-board spending cuts imposed by the sequester. The Republican-controlled House is assuming the sequester continues and in line with that planning a combined 19 percent reduction from funds for the departments of Labor, Education and Health and Human Services.
Sharon Johnson is a New York-based free-lance reporter.
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