Today marks the deadline for Congress and the president to agree on a plan to avoid the $85 billion in automatic, indiscriminate spending cuts called the sequester. However, with the current atmosphere in Washington, D.C., there seems little doubt that this time, the cuts are happening for real.
Monday, the White House published details of what the sequester would mean for each state. For Mississippi, which receives more than $2.50 in federal dollars for every $1 it contributes to the federal coffers, the cuts could touch on every part of the state economy; however, funds for education could see potentially devastating decreases, according to the Obama administration. For example:
• Teachers and Schools: Mississippi will lose approximately $5,486,000 in funding for primary and secondary education, putting around 80 teacher and aide jobs at risk. In addition, about 12,000 fewer students would be served and approximately 20 fewer schools would receive funding.
• Education for Children with Disabilities: In addition, Mississippi will lose approximately $6,124,000 in funds for about 70 teachers, aides and staff who help children with disabilities.
• Work-Study Jobs: Around 510 fewer low-income students in Mississippi would receive aid to help them finance the costs of college, and about 150 fewer students will get work-study jobs that help them pay for college.
• Head Start: Head Start and Early Head Start services would be eliminated for approximately 1,600 children in Mississippi, reducing access to critical early education.
Without state-mandated early childhood education, reducing funds for Mississippi's Head Start program means swelling an already bulging waiting list. One-third of the state's children live in poverty, and in early 2011, the state already had more than 9,500 children waiting for child-care assistance, reports the Washington, D.C.-based Child Welfare League of America.
For Hinds County, the sequester would probably mean from 120 to 140 Head Start slots eliminated out of about 2,000, said Kenn Cockrell, executive director of the Hinds County Human Resource Agency. The county would also lose from seven to 10 related jobs.
"It's obviously not good news," Cockrell said. "Not only will the children be affected, but because of the nature of Head Start--it's holistic--(it will) impact the entire family."
Cockrell noted that Head Start has been very successful in lifting people out of poverty. The program also has long-term benefits for the state economy.
"For every dollar that's invested in Head Start, the economy gets seven dollars in return," Marvin Hogan, executive director of Friends of Children, the state's second-largest Head Start provider, told Mississippi Public Broadcasting.
"If you're talking about reducing $14 million dollars from Mississippi's Head Start budget just think about seven times that 14. And it does provide service not only to the children--it's a source of employment, and our agency--one agency--is 987 employees."
The Hinds County Human Resource Agency also provides other low-income programs, such as assisting families with energy costs. Cockrell said those other programs could also be affected, adding that of the county's roughly quarter-million people, about a quarter live at or below the poverty level. His funding is sufficient to reach about half the people in the county that need help.
"Things are become more and more difficult for low-income people to make ends meet," Cockrell said. "To have this happen, at this point in time when the economy is just now trying to turn the corner is going to be doubly devastating."
"... There is a certain inertia on the part of those who could make a difference--if they chose to."
On a national scale, about half the federal cuts--$43 billion--will affect the nation's security and military operations. The other $42 billion will come from domestic programs, such as education and national parks, payments to Medicare providers, some agriculture programs and benefits to those who have been unemployed for long periods. The sequester will not affect Social Security or Medicaid benefits, federal retirement or nutrition programs for low-income Americans.