Sequestration slams certain disability programs

Scissors cutting bill
Sequestration hurts disability programs

Special education, housing services and veterans assistance programs are among the government programs set to receive severe cutbacks as part of the federal government’s automatic budget cuts that went into effect March 1.

The cuts went into effect after Congress failed to come up with a deficit reduction plan, as required by a 2011 deal that created a two-year time line to create a new plan. The deal was set up so that if Congress failed to act, a series of tax hikes and automatic cuts would go into effect: the famed “fiscal cliff.” Congress reached an agreement to avoid the tax hikes in January, but failed to reach an agreement to stop the spending cuts: the so-called sequester.

“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,” the National Council on Disability stated in a release, from March 1, outlining the effects of the sequester.

The cuts exempt Medicaid, Medicare and other mandatory health care benefits programs, such as food stamps and unemployment benefits. There will also not be any changes to how Social Security benefits are calculated, a major concern for disability rights groups and a significant piece of proposals from both parties during the failed negotiations.

As a result, the military and discretionary programs are saddled with the burden of trimming by $1.2 trillion over 10 years, including $85 billion this year.

According to the NCD document, an estimated $600 million in federal funding will be cut from special education, resulting in the loss of 15,000 jobs for special education teachers. Nearly $2 billion will be cut from housing programs, many of which are aimed at the elderly and people with disabilities. In regard to veterans, programs such as TRICARE, tuition assistance and family supports will be cuts.

In the coming months, further details about the extent of the cuts will likely emerge.

“(Families) need to plan for some services and supports that they currently have to not be available to them. There’s going to be a real cut, and with cuts there are consequences,” Katy Neas, Easter Seals‘ senior vice president of government relations, told Disability Scoop.