The Inter-Religious Working Group on Domestic Human Needs feels compelled to respond to the budget released by the House Budget Committee – headed by Rep. Paul Ryan. Again, we are horrified by the damage it would do to individuals and families struggling to survive economically. These same households have borne the brunt of budget cuts, and sequestration cuts over the last several years. Most safety net programs have seen a 20% reduction in funding, while prices and need continue to escalate.
Over the next couple of weeks, pieces will be done on seven areas of discretionary funding. These are being placed on the group’s website  and on the websites of several of the member organizations (see below), and they are being sent to members of Congress. It is critical that those who vote for appropriations, as well as on the overall budget, understand the impact of their decisions on the lives of real families and individuals.
We are confident that this budget will not be accepted and signed into law. However, the proposals will have influence on members of Congress as they appropriate funding, and as they propose and mark up authorizing legislation. We need to be sure that as they continue their work, they are keenly aware of decisions that inflict harm.
First Guest Blog:
By Ryan Murphy, Sisters of Mercy of the Americas
Last week, the House Budget Committee officially released its 2015 budget resolution, entitled: The Path to Prosperity. Although the document is merely symbolic due to the bipartisan budget agreement reached last month between House and Senate, it is an important indication of what could emerge from Congress in the near future. According to Congressman Paul Ryan, the Chairman of the House Budget Committee and key author of the document, “this budget is our vision for how we should fix this country’s fiscal problem.”
Tragically, from the perspective of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, this vision doesn’t address the best interests of the American people.
The proposed “path to prosperity” “seeks to equip Americans with the skills they need in a 21st century economy;” yet it subsequently suggests slashing education programs for millions of children in low-income families. Since the impact of the Great Recession will likely continue over the next decade, it’s not logical to dismantle the ladder of opportunity for our less fortunate children.
For over 150 years, the Sisters of Mercy have provided a quality education throughout the country at our primary schools, high schools, colleges and universities. As educators, we know our country’s prosperous future demands meeting the educational needs of our next generation. The House Budget Committee’s vision would diminish funding for educational programs to an unprecedented level. The next 10 years would see a cut of $791 billion in non-defense discretionary spending, jeopardizing the limited resources for a variety of government programs, including Head Start, Early Head Start and Child Care and Development Block Grant. By 2024, non-defense discretionary spending would be capped at 1.7 percent of the GDP, roughly half of its historic level.
The future success of many children in the United State depends on the early education they receive in both Early Head Start and Head Start. These programs strengthen their verbal, social, and emotional development, giving them the foundation they will need for their academic careers. In 2012, the most recent year for which numbers are available, nearly a million children were enrolled in Head Start, while another 151,000 were enrolled in Early Head Start. Sixty percent of the families with children in either program were headed by single parents. The House Budget Committee failed to recognize the inherent value of enabling these parents to hold a job while improving the development of our next generation.
Last year due to the federal sequestration, funding for Head Start and Early Head start was reduced by five percent. The impact of this cut meant 57,000 children were denied enrolling in these programs. Furthermore, 18,000 Head Start employees were either laid off or experienced a pay decrease. If a five percent reduction in funding could do so much damage, imagine the possible implication of this proposed budget. What would that mean for the development of our next generation if up to half of Head Start’s and Early Head Start’s funding was redirected to tax breaks and military spending?
Other programs, such as the Child Care and Development Block Grant, would face a threat of complete elimination under this budget. Under this program, 1.6 million children are able to attend day care while their parents go to work. Eighty-six percent of the families served by the Child Care and Development Block Grant are low-income signal-parent’s homes. What would it mean for these families to no long have access to day care? Imagine the impact it would have on their parent’s ability to hold a job?
A child has no choice in the economic status of the family she/he is born into or the capacity for moving up the economic ladder. Moreover, children play no role in contributing to the “country’s fiscal problem.” Why then is the House Budget Committee suggesting children in low-income families make the sacrifice? The sad fact is that these children will already face a disproportionate number of challenges their peers from middle class and wealthy families will never fathom. If we truly intend “to equip Americans with the skills they need in a 21st century economy and to create job,” we need to preserve and expand access to a quality education for all Americans, regardless of their families’ economic status.