Budget Process Stokes Debate About Sequestration's Toll
“Already, families have lost housing supports and more children will face homelessness in the coming years,” Lesley said.
Sequestration, he said, has forced school districts to lay off teachers and drastically reduce support services to needy students and students with disabilities. Some schools have eliminated athletics and all extracurricular activities as well as some bus routes. Head Start programs have had to close weeks early or kick children out, he added.
Sessions noted that the federal government spends $780 billion a year on 83 different welfare and poverty programs affecting children “yet poverty is now increasing, so something is wrong. We must start defining compassion and helpfulness not by how much money we spend but how many people we actually help to remove themselves out of poverty.”
A number of welfare programs dealing with children’s health and nutrition are expected to be hit by the sequestration cuts.
“The impact of our present budgetary situation on children is an issue we need to talk about,” Sessions said. “What we’ve learned is over the years many of the programs that are intended to help lower income children and others in poverty have not had the positive impact we would like them to have.”
On defense, Murray maintained that sequestration needs to be replaced with what she characterized as a “more responsible deficit reduction that would be better for our national security, long-term economic growth and our fiscal health.”
“At a time when too many Americans are still struggling to find work, civilian defense employees are being furloughed and small businesses are struggling to stay afloat, our economic recovery and our military preparedness is suffering,” Murray said. “While I believe there are responsible spending cuts to be made in defense programs, the current across-the-board cuts and future arbitrary spending reductions over the next 8 years as part of sequestration are not the answer.”
Robert Work, chief executive officer of the Center for a New American Security, expressed concern that sequestration will affect military strategy and readiness.
“For a global superpower, maintaining a force capable of fighting one major war and denying the objectives of an opportunistic aggressor in a different theater would seem to be the absolute minimum requirement,” Work said. “However, sequestration will make it virtually impossible to maintain this minimum standard. The associated defense cuts will inevitably result in a less capable future Joint Force that is less ready and less robust than at any time since the end of the Cold War.”
Sessions agreed and suggested lawmakers “work together to stave off this unwise level of cuts to defense spending.”
Meanwhile, the Subcommittee on Bankruptcy and the Courts heard U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Julia S. Gibbons testify that sequestration, resulting in a $350 million reduction in judiciary funding, has “had a devastating impact on federal court operations nationwide.”
“The judiciary cannot continue to operate at such drastically reduced funding levels without seriously compromising the constitutional mission of the federal courts,” she said.
Funding allocations sent out to nearly 400 court units nationwide were cut 10 percent below 2012 levels. Court and probation clerks and pretrial services offices will downsize by as many as 1,000 employees during the current fiscal year as a result of funding cuts. The current staffing level of 20,100 personnel is the lowest since 1999 despite significant workload growth. Furloughs have also taken a toll.
“We are still trying to ascertain the impact of these cuts on court operations but we believe the staffing losses are resulting in the slower processing of civil and bankruptcy cases which will impact individuals, small businesses, and corporations seeking to resolve disputes in the federal Courts,” Gibbons said.
Security at courthouses is suffering. Sequestration has resulted in a 30 percent cut in funding for court security systems and equipment. Court security officers are being required to work reduced hours, creating security vulnerabilities throughout the system.
Perhaps hardest hit is the public defender system which already was facing a 5 percent budget cut when sequestration went into effect.
“We are on the verge of being crippled, and we’re a model of quality and efficiency,” said Michael S. Nachmanoff, federal public defender for the Eastern District of Virginia.
But Sessions expressed doubt that the judiciary faces significant issues as a result of sequestration.
“I think cuts are delivering justice today just as well as they were before these cuts took place,” Sessions said. “I don’t have any doubt about it.”