Meet the people hurt by Congress’s budget

It’s easy to tell ourselves that the actions Congress takes in Washington don’t really have impact beyond the Capitol dome. And in some cases, that’s true—they re-named a post office? Honored the special achievements of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team? Sure, fine, go ahead and tune out. But the 2018 budget being considered this week by the U.S. House, which sets funding for all government programs in fiscal year 2018, is one action Congress will take this year that has implications for millions of Americans—and not in a good way.

Just a tiny fraction of our federal budget goes toward supporting everything our government does outside of the military, Social Security and paying down the interest on the national debt. Everything from preventing disease to protecting the environment to protecting public safety is considered “discretionary funding,” and that portion of the budget is at its lowest level in 50 years.

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That’s because in an attempt to reduce the deficit, lawmakers have made dramatic cuts to these programs, even though experts across the political spectrum agree they aren’t a driving factor behind our nation’s fiscal challenges.

For this miscalculation, ordinary Americans are paying the price.

Melissa Armas was seven months pregnant when she was laid off from her job in San Diego. After taking some time to care for her newborn, Leila, Melissa went back on the job market. She qualified for subsidized child care through EES, a Child Care and Development Block Grant-funded care center.

“EES gave me the help I needed to get on my feet. Policymakers in Washington should know how critical these programs are to keeping parents working,” says Melissa. “Even more importantly, I know that Leila is getting the education and social interaction with her peers at EES, which will set her up for life. Every parent should have that peace of mind.”  

At that time, Melissa was one of the lucky ones. During the Great Recession and the years following, California’s Child Care and Development system was subjected to almost $1 billion in funding reductions. During that time, when in many cases they were needed most, the state lost 100,000 subsidized childcare slots. While the state has taken steps to increase resources, they have not made up for those losses.

The Senate budget makes things even grimmer for families like Melissa’s, making subsidized child care a rarity despite the fact that, once parents are given the ability to get back on their feet, they’re able to contribute more to the economy as well as provide for their families.

And that’s the point: The cuts may not help the economy, but they have certainly hurt the lives of millions of Americans—those who rely on federal programs that fund job training, child care, law enforcement, and more. These cuts are dragging down our economic recovery, hampering business growth and development, weakening public health preparedness and response, reducing resources for our nation’s schools and colleges, compromising federal oversight and fraud recovery, hindering scientific discovery, eroding our infrastructure, and threatening our ability to address emergencies around the world. Simply put, these cuts are bad for the country and are not sustainable.

That’s why NDD United, which represents more than 2,000 organizations spanning interests as varied as education, public health, infrastructure, and law enforcement, is calling on Congress to work together to raise the budget spending caps and restore funding to these programs that keep America healthy, safe and secure. If we can’t count on Congress to protect our families, what exactly are they doing?

Tiffany Kaszuba is the Director of NDD United, a coalition of more than 2,000 national, state and local organizations fighting federal budget cuts to core government services. She is also a Vice President at Cavarocchi Ruscio and Dennis.