U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse hosted a roundtable discussion in Providence in August to hear how the indiscriminate cuts in federal spending, known as the sequester, are affecting Rhode Island families and the state’s economy. Earlier this week, the two Senators shared some of the stories they heard with Senate leaders, and pushed to replace the sequester with a balanced approach to deficit reduction.
“The current across-the-board budget cuts are hurting families and businesses across the nation,” the Senators wrote in a letter sent Thursday to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. “While deficit reduction is an important long-term priority, we must continue to invest in our economic recovery and avert cuts to critical programs that support badly needed jobs and help those looking for work. We can replace the deficit reduction from sequestration in a balanced manner that supports economic growth.”
These across-the-board spending cuts went into effect earlier this year, and are harming a number of critical areas – from Rhode Island’s defense contracting industry to housing aid, to Head Start programs on which so many families rely.
In March, Senators Reed and Whitehouse helped pass a budget blueprint that would support replacing the sequester with balanced deficit reduction. Unfortunately, a minority of Senate Republicans have used procedural tactics to prevent the Senate from beginning a Conference Committee with the House of Representatives to negotiate a compromise budget. Now, unless Congress takes action, the government will run out of funding and be forced to shut down on October 1.
The letter details the effect of these cuts in Rhode Island, as expressed by each of the participants in last month’s roundtable.
Dear Leaders Reid and McConnell
During the August state work period, we convened a meeting with some of our constituents to discuss their experiences with sequester-level budgeting. We write today to share their stories and to ask that you work to advance legislation to permanently repeal the harmful sequestration cuts.
Rhode Islanders who attended our meeting on budget sequestration included:
Richard Godfrey, Executive Director, Rhode Island Housing, who said, “In Rhode Island, as throughout the nation, sequestration cuts, especially on top of the other cuts we have seen to federal housing programs in recent years, will make it harder to find the financing to move forward much needed affordable housing developments and negatively impact families and communities.”
Molly Magee, Executive Director, Southeastern New England Defense Industry Alliance, who said, “A small research and development company has had to lay off 50 percent of their employees due to sequestration and the continuing resolution. They made a decision to significantly invest in employees, in hardware, in laboratories over the last few years to position for growth, and now feel that the government, through sequestration, has pulled the rug out from under them. They say the worst part is there is no end in sight for them, and quite truthfully they are in a struggle for survival at this point. . . . Overall, the impact on the Rhode Island defense contractor community, to sum it up: it’s an economic drain—revenue is not there; it’s an innovation drain—we’re not seeing the R&D money come into the state; it’s a brain drain—employees are leaving the industry; it’s a quality drain—some contracts are coming out now focused on cost at the price of value; and especially important, it’s a morale drain to our employees.”
General Kevin McBride, Adjutant General, Rhode Island National Guard, who said, “Right now, the greatest threat the National Guard faces today is continued uncertainty over the budget and the risk of even greater sequestration cuts. . . . The 20 percent loss in pay for six weeks endured by over 400 Rhode Islanders, federal technicians, many of whom deployed for overseas contingency operations, has caused additional stress on our servicemembers, particularly for our lower wage grade personnel. . . . Even if our furlough status does not continue, our mission-ready status may be compromised due to potential sequestration cuts to the operations and maintenance budgets. It is critical that the leadership of the state realize that once disaster strikes, we cannot turn back the clock to assure that critical equipment is ready to respond . . . . Within one year, it has been estimated that National Guard readiness has been degraded to pre-9/11 levels.”
Karen Markin, Director of Research Development, University of Rhode Island, who said, “[T]hese budget cuts are insidious, because we won’t feel the consequences for a few years. And when we do, it will be subtle but devastating in the long run. It will be the absence of innovations in science, technology and medicine at the pace we have come to expect. It’s like deferred maintenance – it seems innocuous now, but it will come back to bite us several years from now. We can probably recover from a single year of treading water in scientific discovery, but if this keeps up, the nation’s scientific research enterprise will begin to erode.”
Amber Champlin, Parent Representative to the National Head Start Association Board, who said, “Just in Rhode Island, we have 100 teachers and staff that are facing pay cuts, reduction of hours, and over half of them have just lost their job completely. This September, we’re going to see 17 empty classrooms. And we’re going to see 370 kids that are not going to have access to the benefits of Head Start—that’s 370 kids who are going to go to kindergarten with no preschool experience. They’re not going to have the opportunity to learn their numbers, their letters, or even spell their own name. They’re not going to have the screenings necessary to make sure they get special education services, or follow-ups for medical, dental, and nutrition to make sure they’re healthy enough to go to school. They’re not even going to get a chance to sit in a preschool classroom and learn how to sit still so their kindergarten teacher can read their class a story. That’s the effects that sequestration is having on Head Start.”
Pam Cipriano, a Rhode Islander receiving unemployment benefits, who said, “I don’t have the solution to [our nation’s budget] problems, but I know that ‘sequester’ is a budget cut and a bad choice and not the answer. The sequester has taken 40 dollars a week from my benefits. It seems to me that the ‘wheels are falling off of the wagon,’ and we’re asking the ‘little guy’ to be the solution.”
The current across-the-board budget cuts are hurting families and businesses across the nation. We are sure you are hearing similar stories from your own constituents. While deficit reduction is an important long-term priority, we must continue to invest in our economic recovery and avert cuts to critical programs that support badly needed jobs and help those looking for work. We can replace the deficit reduction from sequestration in a balanced manner that supports economic growth. The Senate-passed budget for FY 2014, for example, would replace sequestration with an equal mix of targeted spending savings and revenue from closing loopholes that benefit profitable large corporations and wealthy individuals.
Thank you for your attention to this letter. We look forward to working with you on a bipartisan budget that restores funding to the critical programs on which our constituents rely.
Senator Jack Reed,
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse