The prospect of federal budget cuts imposed by the sequestration was the focus of an expert panel hosted by the Alliance to End Hunger on March 21, 2013. The panelists—CHC Executive Director Ed Cooney, Roberta Downing of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and Alisha English of World Food Program USA—highlighted potential impacts in the U.S. and globally of across-the-board cuts.
“The horror of sequestration is its impacts on people and groups throughout the country,” said Cooney, “The real horror is the threat of sequestration.” Federal officials may delay grants and state agencies delay funding for local projects. In the ongoing dialog on deficit reduction, the continuous threat of cuts creates a tense atmosphere for those that receive services and the organizations that serve them. Downing agreed that the current budget debate shifts the priority away from meeting the real needs. “This whole kind of attack is not fact-based,” she noted. Adding, there is “too much talk about waste and abuse but not enough talk about why people need it.” The panelists called on anti-hunger advocates to continue their pivotal role: focusing attention on the reality of programs’ effectiveness and efficiency.
International anti-hunger efforts are also affected by proposed reductions. Cuts to U.S. support for international hunger needs risk providing “less food to less people,” said English. She noted that cuts could deny or reduce access to emergency food assistance for 1.7 million people. Hunger efforts should not be viewed solely as humanitarian efforts. They also provide stability to regions and protect our national security.
Despite these constant threats, there has been some progress in protecting hunger prevention and nutrition assistance programs. Passage of the FY13 continuing resolution (CR) brought a victory amid the federal spending cuts—protection of the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Program budget—averting cuts in benefits to some 600,000 women and children who could have been dropped from WIC. Unfortunately, Meals on Wheels and other programs on which seniors rely were hurt by cuts of $40 million to senior nutrition programs included in the sequester measure passed March 1 and unchanged by the CR.
Entitlement programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are not subject to the sequester. Yet, Downing warned, “Every SNAP household will experience cuts November 1,2013,” when the 2009 Recovery Act’s temporary boost to SNAP benefits is scheduled to end. Advocates are urging Congress to remedy this problem.