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Here at Advocates for Ohio's Future, our primary focus is on the state budget and its impact on health, human service, and early care & education programs. But we cannot ignore how proposed cuts to the federal budget, now being considered in Congress, could chip away even more at Ohio's safety net. Lost funding at both the federal and state levels would be the one-two punch that our state's most vulnerable populations simply cannot sustain.

On March 2, the President and Congress agreed on a stop-gap measure to keep the federal government running under what is called a continuing resolution (CR). That CR expires March 18, by which time another CR must be signed to avoid a government shutdown. The goal is to compromise on a six-month budget that will cover the remainder of the federal fiscal year, which ends September 30.

(For a good primer on the federal budget process, visit our friends at Children's Defense Fund.)

Under the current CR, $4 billion in spending was cut, but House Republicans passed a bill (H.R.1) that slashed $66 billion from non-security programs through the end of the year to reduce a projected $1.6 trillion deficit. Proposed cuts by and large avoided addressing the biggest spending areas of the national budget: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and national defense. Instead, they gouged what's left: discretionary programs that buttress the safety net in Ohio and the rest of the country. The Senate rejected that bill but could not muster the votes to pass its own CR, which cut spending by $6.5 billion below last year's levels. While not as extreme as the House plan, which would have been the largest one-year cuts in history, the Senate bill still forced deep cuts to vital public services.

Now both houses are going back to the drawing board to craft a new CR compromise. Advocates for Ohio's Future is monitoring the debate in Washington and will keep you informed. Just to give you a sense of the potential for devastating cuts, here is a brief overview of what was at stake in H.R.1 as passed by the U.S. House of Representatives:

Cuts that would deny older adults access to services in their own home through the Older Americans Act and risk their placement in institutional care:

  • $65 million cut to Older Americans Act programs such as Meals on Wheels and rides to the doctor
  • $525 million cut to the Senior Community Service Employment Program under the Department of Labor

Cuts that would affect safety-net nutrition and housing programs:

  • $20 million cut to Commodity Supplemental Food Program, leaving 4,706 of Ohio's most vulnerable seniors without one of their main sources of nutrition
  • $752 million cut to Women, Infants, Children (WIC), which compounds cuts to emergency food assistance for families with young children when 65% of eligible mothers are already running out of formula before the end of the month
  • $390.3 million cut to home energy assistance (LiHEAP), which served 414,032 Ohioans last year
  • $100 million cut to emergency food and shelter, which provides once-a-year assistance to low-income struggling Ohioans to help them stay in their homes so that they can continue to work

Cuts that would deny health care to low-income Ohioans:

  • $1 billion cut to community health centers, which serve 90,000 people in Ohio, including pregnant women, children, those without health insurance due to the recession and recent unemployment, and people with HIV/AIDS, among others -- leaving them with no other option but costly hospital emergency rooms for primary care
  • Closure of five health centers across the state, including the layoff of hundreds of employees in rural and urban underserved communities

Cuts that would harm early care & education for at-risk children:

  • $1.1 billion cut to Head Start
  • $39 million cut to Child Care Development Block Grant

Cuts that would undercut Ohio's workforce:

  • Elimination of Workforce Investment Act funding for youth and adults

Drastic cuts leveled at our most vulnerable populations are not the solution to the nation's fiscal challenges. Ohio's workforce -- and the health, human service, and early care & education programs that support it -- simply cannot sustain the level of cuts being proposed. Stay tuned for more information and an opportunity to be in touch with your Congressional representatives as the debate over the federal budget continues.

Scott Britton

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