The Obama Administration is expected to release a detailed report outlining how sequestration would affect spending on defense and non-defense programs this week. The report is required under the terms of the Sequestration Transparency Act, which Congress passed with near-unanimous support in late July.
Although most of the public focus on sequestration has centered around the potential $500 billion in defense spending cuts, relatively little attention has been paid to how an equal level of cuts will affect spending on non-defense programs such as healthcare and social services. So far, only limited information has been available as to how these “non-defense discretionary” programs might be cut. The Department of Health and Human Services has estimated that sequestration could result in a 7.8% cut to all its programs across the board. Meanwhile, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee, released a report showing the state-by-state impact of sequestration on education, health, and labor programs. Notably, the report estimates that sequestration would result in 169,375 fewer admissions to substance abuse treatment by cutting over $131 million from the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant.
It is widely expected that Congress will not take action on the sequester until after the November 6 elections. While lawmakers are in their home districts campaigning this fall, the Coalition for Health Funding has created a toolkit for advocates to urge their legislators to oppose drastic cuts to healthcare programs. The toolkit includes an FAQ on sequestration, tips for engaging with lawmakers at town hall meetings, tips for letters to the editor and speaking up on social media, and template documents that you can use to make your voice heard. The more Congress hears from you about the importance of preserving health and social service programs, the more support we will have for protecting these programs when lawmakers return to debate the terms of a deal.