Little did Melissa Armas know that getting a bonus at work would mean losing access to affordable child care for her daughter Leila. But that is exactly what happened to the single mother from Chula Vista, California after it was determined that she made $100 a month too much in order to qualify for the program.
While looking for replacement care, Melissa faced many obstacles. Sometimes, she was told she was making too much money. Other times, she learned that she qualified, but the waiting time was as long as five to seven years. Eventually, she found a spot at a local nonprofit organization named Education Enrichment Systems (EES). EES receives federal funding through the Child Care and Development Block Grant.
“EES gave me the help I needed to get on my feet,” Melissa says. “Policymakers in Washington should know how critical these programs are to keeping parents working. Even more importantly, I know that Leila is getting the education and social interaction with her peers at EES, which will set her up for life. Every parent should have that peace of mind.”
Melissa was one of five individuals who came to the U.S. Capitol Wednesday to share their story about the negative impact past budget cuts have had in areas such as child care, public health, housing, natural resources and job training programs – and how devastating future cuts could be. Their testimony came the day before Congress approved a budget resolution that would cut programs by $5 trillion over the next decade – so that some in Congress can approve tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.
Besides Melissa, those offering their testimony included:
Michael Gritton, Executive Director, KentuckianaWorks, Louisville, KY, whose program trains Kentuckians for “middle-skill” jobs with career potential;
Joseph Hill-Coles, Community Navigator, Youth Service, Inc., Philadelphia, PA, a formerly homeless man helped by Project HOME;
Jim Northup, Former Superintendent, Shenandoah National Park, National Park Service, Luray, VA, on our abandoned national parks;
Ashley Webb, Prevention Program Manager, Illinois Association for Behavioral Health, Springfield, IL, on combating the opioid crisis.
The five witnesses told their stories about the effects of budget cuts first during a Facebook Live event hosted by Reps. Steny Hoyer, D-MD, and Jan Schakowsky, D-IL, and later at a briefing in the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center.
Gritton, who supervises career counseling centers in Louisville and six surrounding counties, said budget cuts already have forced him to close career centers in counties outside of Louisville. “We’ve had to reduce the number of job training scholarships that are available for people even though every employer is begging for people,” he said. “They’re all looking for skills – construction, manufacturing, health care, IT, you name it. But we have a lot less federal money than we used to train these people to take those jobs.” When the training scholarships are available, they pay off. Gritton described Thomas Hudson, a worker who completed a 4-week training program that enabled him to double his $8.50/hour salary. Even without paying tuition, it was a struggle, because he had to go without pay during the training program. He would not have been able to afford to pay for the training. But that investment allowed Thomas to buy a house and get a new promotion.
Not enough funds to help workers get subsidized training? “They end up being on unemployment, in the underground economy, doing things we don’t want them to do, or stuck in low-end, dead-end jobs that don’t give them career pathways to take them ultimately to that middle-class American dream that we all want to live,” Gritton said.
Webb talked about how spending money on preventing drug addiction, such as opioid addiction, actually saves money in the long run because treating addiction up front is much less expensive than dealing with it down the road. “If you’re not able to deal with addiction issues, it costs our society more,” she said. “We know that with every dollar spent in prevention funding, it saves $18 down the road. We definitely know there is an impact later in life.”
The witnesses’ testimony coincided with Wednesday’s release of a new report issues by NDD United. The report, “Faces of Austerity 2.0: How Budget Cuts Continue to Make Us Sicker, Poorer and Less Secure,” tells the stories of those who continue to be hurt by Congress’ failure to protect the programs that keep Americans healthy, safe and educated. In 2013 – the same year of the government shutdown – NDD United released its first “Faces of Austerity” report documenting how the Budget Control Act and sequestration harmed programs that help Americans. The most recent report describes the impact of budget cuts already affecting many programs. The stories both show why investing in these programs makes sense, and the harm inflicted by more and more cuts..
“We as a nation are standing at the precipice of disaster,” said Emily Holubowich, Co-Chair, NDD United and Executive Director of the Coalition for Health Funding. “Congress has cut discretionary programs to such a bare-bones level that many critical programs have closed offices, cut workforce or have been forced to completely shut down. That means we’re less equipped to control and treat widespread drug abuse. That our national parks can’t be maintained. That our food may be less safe.”
Hill-Coles, the formerly homeless young man now helping others like him in Philadelphia, embodies the value of housing and homelessness prevention programs. As he says, “Committing to a job or an education is difficult when you aren’t sure if you are going to have a roof over your head at night. Housing vouchers provide previously homeless youth with the basic need for consistent shelter, which allows them to go forward and pursue work and educational opportunities.”
Hill-Coles benefited from these services – an investment that has allowed him to do his part in making life better for others. Now Congress is considering cutting as many as 120,000 housing vouchers this year. If more members of Congress paid attention to people like Joseph, Melissa and Thomas, they would understand how badly cuts like these weaken our nation, and our prospects for the future.