News Analysis: Effects of the Sequester

Partisan bickering in Congress has long existed, but it climaxed in early March when the sequester — a predetermined plan of dramatic budget cuts — was implemented.

When the debt ceiling was raised in 2011, negotiations called for 1.2 trillion in spending cuts to be made by March 1, 2013. Cuts were to be decided by a bipartisan committee, and failure to do so would result in automatic budget cuts. Since a deal failed, 10 percent in across the board cuts will be made over the next decade. The sequester affects most spending, but entitlements like Social Security and Medicaid are exempt.

People with disabilities may think the sequester isn’t serious, but it will affect many in our community, says Ray Cebula, a senior faculty member at the Cornell Employment & Disability Institute. He worries many with disabilities will ignore the sequester because it doesn’t affect cash benefits but says it will definitely impact some programs.

The sequester will also delay some benefit applications. “What’s going to happen is when somebody needs services, they are now going to wait,“ Cebula says. He adds it could take an extra few months to get housing and Social Security benefits.

Vocational Rehabilitation faces cuts that could cause states to give priority based on need or result in partial delivery of services. “The more expensive and intensive services I don’t think will be cut, but they are going to be steered away from,” he says. “It will be down to bare bones.”

It may be months before the impact is felt, but Cebula encourages people to contact their members of Congress now. “Nobody in Congress knows how people with disabilities are treated by these agencies,” he says. “If we don’t speak up, they will never know.”

Katy Neas, senior vice president for Government Relations at Easter Seals, doesn’t know how the sequester will pan out, but she says housing, job training and personal assistance programs were already underfunded.  “You add a five percent cut on top of that, and it just makes a bad situation worse,” she says.

Neas hopes the sequester isn’t permanent, and she lobbies Congress constantly. “What I tell members of Congress and their staff is that people with disabilities and all Americans need their government to work,” she says. “Gridlock does not benefit the American people.

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