A series of automatic, across-the-board cuts to federal government spending totaling $1.2 trillion over the course of 10 years are set to take effect this Friday, March 1. Dubbed “sequestration” these cuts, if implemented, will be split between defense and domestic discretionary spending.
Originally passed as part of the Budget Control Act of 2011 on the heels of the debt ceiling compromise, the sequester was intended to pressure the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (the “Supercommittee”) to agree on a budget of $1.5 trillion by way of spending cuts and revenue increases over the next decade.
Congress stopped mandatory budget cuts from taking effect by passing the American Taxpayer Relief Act January 2 when the deadline was pushed back to March 1, 2013. If Congress fails to agree on a budget to reduce the federal deficit by then $85 billion in spending cuts – split evenly between domestic and defense discretionary programs – will go into effect.
For Americans with disabilities, this means everything from special education to transportation, to housing and health care programs will “feel the pinch” due to the precarious collision of across-the-board cuts and unforeseen circumstances.
· Disability benefits will also remain intact, but across-the-board budget cuts would force the SSA to “curtail service to the public,” according to the White House. Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue wrote on Feb. 7 that administrative cuts could slow disability claims, "If we do not have enough staff to keep up or if furloughs prevent them from working, the public can expect to wait longer in our offices, on the phone, and for disability decisions at all levels."
· Pending levels of initial disability claims are likely to rise by over 140,000 claims, and it is estimated that applicants will have to wait about two weeks longer for decision on disability claims and nearly a month longer for disability hearing decisions.
· $978 million in comprehensive funding cuts would affect 30.7 million special education students.
· Funding for special education, specifically, would be slashed by nearly $600 million, reducing supports for students with disabilities to 2005 levels.
· Federal funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) will be reduced by 28 percent, totaling a loss of one billion dollars.
· Close to 15,000 special education teachers could lose their jobs resulting in larger class sizes.
· 70,000 children, many of them disabled, would be dropped from Head Start programs.
· Funding for “up to 7,200″ special education support workers – such as personnel aides and money for assistance – would also be eliminated, according to the White House.
The sequester would place tens of thousands of Americans with disabilities at greater risk for hunger and homelessness, endanger the education of millions of children with disabilities and delay employment services and disability benefits for scores of people with disabilities – including disabled veterans -- who are, on average, already at greater risk of poverty.