Sequester Out!


U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader (right) uses his smartphone to take notes during an AFL-CIO-sponsored “sit-in.” Also taking part was U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici.
U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader (right) uses his smartphone to take notes during an AFL-CIO-sponsored “sit-in.” Also taking part was U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici.

A group of about 50 concerned citizens met with U.S. Representatives  Suzanne Bonamici and Kurt Schrader  at a “sequester sit-in” April 4 sponsored by the Oregon AFL-CIO, the Northwest Oregon Labor Council, Oregon Action, and Working America.

A panel of Portland-area labor and community activists illustrated how sequestration is impacting tens of thousands of middle class jobs, and vital services to children, seniors, people with mental illness, and the military.

Sequestration is the term used for the $85 billion in automatic, across-the-board cuts to both defense spending and domestic spending that went into effect March 1. Congressional leaders and President Obama set the self-imposed deadline in an effort to pass a federal budget. Their thinking was that the sequester cuts were so severe that Republicans and Democrats would be forced to reach agreement on a budget to avoid them. But they failed to agree, and the cutting began March 1.

The AFL-CIO’s Executive Council, which says sequestration will cost more than 750,000 jobs this year alone and slash funding for the very programs people need to get back on their feet, has called on lawmakers to repeal it.

At the sequester sit-in on April 4, representatives from labor unions, Mercy Corp NW, and Partners for a Hunger Free Oregon rattled off a series of sequester impacts, ranging from job cuts for teachers and law enforcement, to longer waits for federal assistance, to fewer safety inspections of the nation’s food supply, to fewer loans for small businesses.

Sequestration cuts are not limited to  federal employees — who have already given back over $100 billion through unpaid furloughs and no pay raises over the last three years, said Amanda Schroeder of American Federation of Government Employees Local 2157.

“As our families continue to earn less, our families have less to spend in their neighborhoods and cities. That’s less money that we are spending at a cafe where a waitress depends on our business. It’s less money we have to spend at grocery stores, movie theaters, on bus tickets and at hardware stores. Sequestration hurts all working Americans.”

Meanwhile, Schroeder continued,  “No tax loopholes for the wealthiest Americans have closed. This is hardly a balanced approach to the deficit reduction.”

Robyn Johnson of Partners for a Hunger Free Oregon said federally funded nutrition programs were for the most part held harmless. She said 800,000 Oregonians rely on food stamps and that the Oregon Food Bank serves 200,000 people a month.

“We are most concerned about the WIC program (Department of Agriculture’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children). A 5.2 percent cut will eliminate 7,200 slots for pregnant women, infant children, and kids up to the age of five,” Johnson said. “It is untenable that there is a discussion about taking a program that is serving the most needy, and the most vulnerable people in the most vulnerable time of their life.”

Jeff Klatke, a member of AFSCME Council 75, said business is booming   at Home Forward (formerly the Housing Authority of Portland).

The agency, which serves 15,000 low-income families, has seen demand for its services increase multiple times since the Great Recession hit.

Klatke said six months ago a record 21,000 applications were filed after Home Forward opened its wait list for Section 8 vouchers. That’s in addition to 26,000 public housing request applications that are already on file.

“And now, after this economic downturn, which we are still not out of yet, the community gets sequestered,” Klatke said.

Home Forward relies on the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for a majority of its funding, and Klatke pointed out that   funding has been slowly declining for years. “We have been forced to operate with the ‘do more with less’ philosophy long enough that we simply can’t do more and we can’t survive with any fewer staff, ” he said.

Home Forward residents — the majority of whom are seniors and the disabled on fixed incomes — likely will see their rents raised and their utility assistance reduced.

Doug Cooper, assistant director of Mercy Corp NW, said some of its capital for lending to small businesses comes from the Small Business Administration. Half of those loans are to new start-up companies, a segment that commercial banks essentially don’t deal with. “As of today, any new capital for lending is on hold,” he said.

Bob Marshall, an organizer for United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555, summed it up best: “I turned 64 in March, and I’m tired of hearing about cuts to the working people. I just can’t take it any more. Everything is cutting this and cutting that. We’ve been cutting for 35 to 40 years. Enough is enough. I’m tired of corporations privatizing the profits and socializing the losses.”

Bonamici and Schrader sympathized with panelists and the audience.

“I don’t think people expected these cuts would ever take place, but here we are,” Bonamici said.

“It’s a horrible comment on the United States government, particularly this Congress, that this has come to pass,” Schrader added.

Bonamici said the sequestration’s across-the-board cuts “do nothing about income disparity,” noting that Congress should look at cutting subsidies and closing tax loopholes for oil and gas companies, big farmers, and agriculture. She wants policies that will create jobs, not cut them. “These policies for sequestration go in the opposite direction.”

“Do you know what the Republican alternatives are to the sequester?” Schrader asked. “Doubling down on the domestic cuts. To build up the defense budget.”

Schrader said some members of Congress want to continue funding civilian contractors and military projects that even the top military brass want to eliminate. “They can’t even give us a number (of how many contract workers are on the payroll). The DOD budget is unauditable.

The lawmakers said there is a bill in the U.S. House to repeal sequestration — but not the votes to pass it.


Sequester impacts on Oregon

  • Teachers and schools: Oregon will lose approximately $10.2 million in funding for primary and secondary education, putting around 140 teacher and aide jobs at risk. In addition, about 13,000 fewer students would be served, and approximately 40 fewer schools would receive funding.
  • Education for children with disabilities: Oregon will lose approximately $6.4 million in funds for about 80 teachers, aides, and staff who help children with disabilities.
  • Work-study jobs: Around 240 fewer low income students in Oregon would receive aid to help them finance the costs of college, and around 280 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 600 children in Oregon, reducing access to critical early education.
  • Protections for clean air and clean water: Oregon would lose about $1,882,000 in environmental funding to ensure clean water and air quality, as well as prevent pollution from pesticides and hazardous waste. In addition, Oregon could lose another $1,052,000 in grants for fish and wildlife protection.
  • Military readiness: In Oregon, approximately 3,000 civilian Department of Defense employees would be furloughed, reducing gross pay by around $16.5 million in total.
  • Army: Base operation funding would be cut by about $1.6 million in Oregon.
  • Law Enforcement and Public Safety Funds for Crime Prevention and Prosecution: Oregon will lose about $155,000 in Justice Assistance Grants that support law enforcement, prosecution and courts, crime prevention and education, corrections and community corrections, drug treatment and enforcement, and crime victim and witness initiatives.
  • Job search assistance to help those in Oregon find employment and training: Oregon will lose about $470,000 in funding for job search assistance, referral, and placement, meaning around 16,320 fewer people will get the help and skills they need to find employment.
  • Child care: Up to 300 disadvantaged and vulnerable children could lose access to child care, which is also essential for working parents to hold down a job.
  • Vaccines for children: In Oregon around 1,670 fewer children will receive vaccines for diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, whooping cough, influenza, and Hepatitis B due to reduced funding for vaccinations of about $114,000.
  • Public health: Oregon will lose approximately $366,000 in funds to help upgrade its ability to respond to public health threats including infectious diseases, natural disasters, and biological, chemical, nuclear, and radiological events. In addition, Oregon will lose about $890,000 in grants to help prevent and treat substance abuse, resulting in around 3,800 fewer admissions to substance abuse programs. And the Oregon Health Authority will lose about $113,000, resulting in around 2,800 fewer HIV tests.
  • Stop violence against women program: Oregon could lose up to $81,000 in funds that provide services to victims of domestic violence, resulting in up to 300 fewer victims being served.
  • Nutrition assistance for seniors: Oregon would lose approximately $690,000 in funds that provide meals for seniors.”


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