Even without the spending cuts included in the so-called “sequester,” America’s domestic spending levels are scheduled to hit historic lows in the coming years. That’s because the Budget Control Act, signed into law as part of the plan to raise the debt ceiling in August 2011, capped future spending levels.
Those caps will ultimately reduce spending to its lowest level as a percent of the economy since the 1970s, according to a report from Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee:
Already, many programs on which Americans depend have faced significant cuts. Here are eight examples from the report:
Education: 44 federal education programs have been totally eliminated, saving $1.1 billion, since 2010. Title I, which funds schools in low-income areas, has not faced cuts, but it has not received scheduled funding increases. As a result, it has absorbed 1.2 million more students with no additional funds, meaning districts now have $140 less per student in those schools. The capped spending levels will also result in a significant shortfall in the Pell Grants program.
Food safety: The Food and Drug Administration nearly doubled its inspection of food imports between 2007 and 2011, but such inspections would be reduced by 24 percent under scheduled spending caps. Food imports are skyrocketing, but the FDA inspects only 2.3 percent of them. In addition, budget cuts have jeopardized implementation of major food safety reforms.
Women, Infants, and Children programs: The WIC program helps low-income women who are pregnant or have infant children up to age five. “If the same rate of growth that the discretionary budget caps permit through 2022 had been used to determine WIC funding over the last eight years, some 970,000 women, infants, and children would not have been able to receive much-needed supplemental foods this year,” according to the report.
Housing: A program to help house low-income seniors was cut in half from 2010 to 2012, resulting in the construction of no new housing, even as there are 10 seniors on waiting lists for each existing unit. Another program to build low-income housing was cut from $1.8 billion in 2010 to just $1 billion in 2012, resulting in the construction of fewer homes and the creation of 8,000 fewer jobs. And a program that helps heat low-income homes in the winter was cut by a third, resulting in assistance for a million fewer homes last year and cuts for those who still receive assistance, even as energy prices have risen by 31 percent in that time.
Social Security: A rising number of senior citizens and disability claims has put a strain on the Social Security Administration’s operating budget, which has not increased in two years. SSA has cut 6,500 workers and closed 23 offices, with plans to close 11 more. There were more than 800,000 claims made to SSA last year, an increase of 100,000 from the previous year.
Child Care: Federal funding for the Child Care Development Block Grant, which helps low-income families access subsidies for child care, has declined by 13 percent since 2002. Only one in six children who are eligible for that assistance now receive it.
Aviation Safety: The Federal Aviation Administraton has faced $205 million in cuts to programs meant to help update its infrastructure, even as the department is switching its monitoring system to a safer one based on satellites.
Community Investment: Community Development Block Grants help localities fund economic development, housing, and public services. The program has been cut by a quarter, a total of $1 billion, in the last two years. The Dept. of Housing and Urban Development estimates that the $1 billion reduction resulted in 21,000 fewer jobs being created last year.
This is just a sampling of the cuts that have taken place, and again, they do not reflect the impact of the automatic cuts that will begin on March 1 if Congress does not avert them. The sequester would cut discretionary spending by 8.2 percent across-the-board, further jeopardizing these programs and others. According to the Bipartisan Policy Center, the sequester’s budget cuts would result the loss of one million jobs.