Seems like the word “sequester” has become part of our everyday vernacular here in the DC metro region, so much so that not a day goes by without it coming up in some context. Yet, since its implementation, it feels like the sense of urgency to resolve the impact of the sequester has dissipated. It’s no longer front page news and has become the source of jokes and derision. There was the non-“snowquester” in March; the sparring about what was really behind the cancellations of all White House tours; and the reports about how Congress quickly passed legislation to resolve the impact of the sequester on air travel – just as their week-long recess was beginning (really???). And all the while, critical social services that are helping to meet the needs of our poorest communities are being cut. Programs like Headstart, nutrition assistance, child-care subsidies, and health screenings for low-income women all faced significant cutbacks but without the same sense of outrage or swift action that some of these less consequential outcomes spurred.
The reality is that the sequester is not a joke, and though the hype has faded and pundits are saying the effects have not been as bad as predicted, for many people the very real implications and impact of these policy decisions are just beginning. For them, this will be devastating. Hundreds of thousands of people have been affected by cuts to programs like those listed above; poor people in this country are once again bearing the brunt of bad policy and are finding that their pathways out of poverty have been blocked.
And the sequester isn’t only affecting people who rely on social services. There are also the large swaths of the federal workforce that have been required to take mandatory furloughs. A chief economist for Moody’s Analytics told The Hill last month that one-third of the federal workforce – nearly one million people – “will be furloughed for an average of 13 days through September.” This can have an enormous impact on any family, and for those at the bottom of the federal pay scale – who are probably already living paycheck to paycheck – it is likely crushing and life-changing. Keep in mind that, in the Washington region, the federal pay scale that determines how much most of the federal civilian workforce is paid starts at just over $22,000.
People I know and people you know and maybe see every day could be among those who will have to go without pay for more than two weeks to ease the financial strain on the federal government. It makes you wonder what the average person is supposed to give up to ease her own financial strain.
Our lawmakers need to start putting the needs of those who are most disadvantaged first instead of last and try to put themselves, even for a moment, in the shoes of those who are most profoundly impacted by the policy decisions they are making (or not making as the case may be) from on high.
Nicky Goren is president of Washington Area Women’s Foundation.