When I was asked to provide a perspective about sequestration, I spent some time thinking about how to best show the impact this will have on our community.
Bottom line is it will impact those who can afford it the least: families who have recently lost good jobs and are working hard trying to make ends meet, veterans struggling to find jobs, aging neighbors who need help with repairs so they can stay in their homes, and many others.
People like Bill and Donna.
Bill and Donna live in rural Whatcom County with their two children, Ryan, age 5, and Taylor, age 3. Bill works about 32 hours a week at a convenience store in Bellingham and also works for a janitorial company 12 hours per week. He earns $10.50 per hour. Bill gets up at 5:30 a.m. to catch the bus to Bellingham for his 8 a.m. start time. When his shift is over at 4:30 p.m. he waits to catch the 5:45 bus and gets home at 6:45 p.m.
On the two days Bill works for the janitorial company he drives the family car because the bus doesn't run when he gets off at midnight. The car isn't very reliable and doesn't get good gas mileage, but it is all they can afford right now.
Before Bill went to work at the convenience store and as a janitor he was a carpenter and was making $18 an hour 40 hours a week. He continues to look for work in the construction industry.
Meanwhile, the family's income continues to fall short of their expenses. Monthly expenses include $550 to rent a two-bedroom mobile home, $150 a month for gas, $300 for food, $60 for car insurance, $50 for phone and $25 to WTA. They heat with wood -Bill cuts most of that - but their PSE bill is still about $85 per month. They are paying off a couple of bills, one to repair the transmission in the car and one for Donna's root canal, combined $120 per month. Add health insurance, clothing, school supplies and other expenses and it is pretty clear that the $2,002 Bill earns before taxes doesn't go very far.
So what do Bill and Donna have to do with sequestration?
It directly impacts their life.
To help make ends meet, Bill and Donna were hoping to get a little help from the Opportunity Council to pay a portion of their energy bill. Last year they received $340, but they may not receive help through the Low Income Heating Assistance Program this year because of looming cuts. They might be able to get PSE charity assistance for their electric bills, but it has become more competitive in recent years because of previous reductions in the heating assistance program.
Taylor has some special needs and is doing well in the Head Start program, but Bill and Donna are unsure whether Taylor will be in Head Start next year because there is a possibility our agency may have to reduce the number of children served or discontinue providing school bus transportation and they only have one car.
The truth is, we don't know yet exactly what sequestration will mean for Bill and Donna and other residents, neighbors, friends and family members locally who just need a little help. We do know our community safety net is getting smaller, the needs are greater and this is just another hit for those who can afford it the least.
At the Opportunity Council, we refuse to accept the sequestration funding cuts as a simple math equation. For example, a 5 percent reduction in funding does not necessarily mean we'll cut 5 percent of the children in our programs for disadvantaged kids. We will look at a number of alternatives before cutting slots for children. Like any good business, we'll look at all the options.
We can make adjustments today but sequestration as it sits now requires a $1.2 trillion spending cut by 2021, that's $85 billion per year, or about 5 percent a year for the next eight years. Congress and the Obama administration need to work together to come up with some realistic solutions including increasing revenues if necessary.
In addition to what happens to Bill and Donna, we don't know how the numbers in need will grow because of sequestration's ripple effects. Come what may, we hope the community will again help us rise to the challenge.
Dave Finet is the executive director of the Opportunity Council.