Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Bipartisan Budget Act for FY14-15 Approved in Congress

On December 18, 2013, the US House and Senate passed the Bipartisan Budget Act, a two-year budget agreement that will undo at least some of the impending sequestration cuts, and will prevent the government from shutting down again on January 15.  As part of the agreement, Republicans were able to say that they did not raise taxes, and that the end result would be to reduce the deficit some more.  Democrats pointed to the fact that they prevented further cuts to programs like Social Security, Medicaid, or SNAP/food stamps. 

However, Congress refused to include the renewal of the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program despite the fact that the number of people out of work for more than six months rose in November – it was higher than in September or October. This federally funded unemployment insurance for the long-term jobless who exhaust their state benefits expired on December 28th.  Between Christmas and New Year’s, 1.3 million people will lose benefits, which average $260 per week.  If Congress does not act to re-start the program, another 3.6 million people will lose access to benefits by the end of 2014.

The budget agreement also sets appropriations totals for FY 2014 (the current fiscal year) and FY 2015.  It changes the deficit reduction law by increasing the amounts that can be spent in those two years by $63 billion.  In FY 2014, the budget the House voted for will enable domestic appropriations to be $22.4 billion more than was spent in the previous year.  That will make it possible to restore some of the lost services caused by sequestration in FY 2013 in programs such as Head Start, rental vouchers, meals for seniors, and many other areas.
The sequestration cuts are not eliminated, but instead of $109 billion a year cuts to the Pentagon and domestic/international appropriations they will be $64.6 billion in FY 2014 and $90.9 billion in FY 2015.  The budget agreement does not do anything to reduce the sequester cuts in FYs 2016 – 2021, which will revert to $109 billion a year unless Congress takes further action.  In fact, in order to pay for the modest reduction in cuts to appropriations, the budget plan extends cuts to mandatory programs (prominently Medicare) for two additional years.
By setting appropriations totals at $1,012.2 billion in FY 2014 and $1,013.6 billion in FY 2015, the budget allows the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to determine program-by-program spending levels. The appropriators will have to assemble an Omnibus spending bill (one that combines all areas of discretionary (appropriated) spending, instead of passing separate appropriations bills) so that it can be voted on by Congress before January 15, when the current temporary funding measure runs out.
The budget provides nearly $45 billion more in FY 2014 for appropriations, divided equally between defense and domestic programs.  In FY 2015, a little more than $18 billion is added, for a total of $63 billion.  The plan saves about $85 billion through FY 2023, thereby providing another $22 billion in deficit reduction.
In addition, the House added a three-month suspension of a long-avoided reduction in payment rates to physicians under Medicare, and also extended the Transitional Medicaid program (for low-income families that leave Temporary Assistance for Needy Families for employment), and the Qualifying Individual (QI) program, which assists near-poor people who qualify for Medicare by using Medicaid funds to pay for their Medicare Part B premiums.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

ABCD's October 8th Shut Down the Shutdown Rally

On Tuesday, Oct. 8, Action for Boston Community Development, a Boston’s anti-poverty agency, hosted a powerful press conference to address the impact that the federal government shutdown is having on Massachusetts' most vulnerable residents.

The event featured John MacPherson, an 87-year-old veteran who served our nation in WWII and who now relies on heating assistance to make ends meet on his limited income. According to MacPherson, if the shutdown isn't resolved to restore the home heating program, he could literally freeze this winter.

Also speaking at the event was Paola Garcia, who talked about how the shutdown is affecting her child's access to Head Start and her English as a Second Language class.

The personal stories these two shared represent countless others from across Massachusetts. From our youngest children to aging adults, the shutdown is impacting everyone.

John Drew, ABCD President/CEO, also reminded us that we can each help end the shutdown by using CAPWorks.org to reach out to friends and family around the country and let them know the importance of our programs and how important it is that we "shut down the shutdown" as soon as possible.

Also speaking at the event were Undersecretary of MA Housing & Community Development Aaron Gornstein; leaders from other nonprofits and associations representing Head Start, aging adults, and other community services; and representatives reading statements on behalf of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Ed Markey, Rep. Michael Capuano, Rep. Stephen Lynch, and Gov. Deval Patrick.

Check out the video below to see the highlights:

Below is print media coverage:

Thursday, October 3, 2013

"Speaker Boehner OPEN UP the United States Government!!!".

By John J. Drew
President/CEO, Action for Boston Community Development, Inc.

The current situation in Washington, DC by the U.S. Congress is an abomination! They are playing politics with the poor and with the US economy.  It is unacceptable! Community Action must stand up to this nonsense!!  I ask that you contact your U.S. Congressmen and Senators right away.

Can we tolerate a country where, within a short period of time, there will be no meals for homebound elderly, no formula for infants, no deliveries for oil heat households, and no social security checks sent out? For the millions being harmed by Congress' actions we plead, "Open Up the U.S. Government". America is the world's bright light. Mr. Speaker, you and the minority members of the House Republicans whom you lead are tarnishing that light and bringing misery to the innocent victims of your political fight.

Monday, May 6, 2013

MA Head Start Association & Boston ABCD Celebrate Head Start With a Parade on May 31st

"We need to convince some folks in Washington that our children are as important as air traffic controllers and meat inspectors and that they should seriously consider rescinding this foolish sequester that is causing havoc with the lives of our most underprivileged families," John Drew, President and CEO of Action for Boston Community Development (ABCD).

Two recent articles talk about the negative impacts that the sequestration cuts are taking on Head Start programs across the nation.

To celebrate Head Start and protest the sequestration cuts, Massachusetts Head Start programs are planning a large parade on Boston Common at 10:00 am for May 31.  If you have similar events occurring, please let us know so that we can inform people across the country.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Video Script for Impact of Sequestration Cuts

Tell Your Senator/Congress Person 
How Sequestration Funding Cuts Will Impact You! 

1) How to start:

Hi, Senator ____/Congressman _____/ Congresswoman_____,

My name is _______.  I live in _____ (town/city).

Today, I am at (put your organization name here) in (put town/city name here).

When I come here, they help me with _____ (put program or service name here).

2) Tell your story:

Please say what you receive from the organization.

Please say what you like about the organization.

Please say what will happen to you if the organization goes away.

3) How to finish:

Please stop the pain and reverse the sequestration cuts!

Thank you for watching. 

What Sen. Rob Portman's Reversal on Gay Marriage Says about Federal Budget Cuts to CSBG

 By Peter Missouri

Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), a staunch opponent of gay marriage rights, announced last week that he's changed his mind on the issue and now believes that, "...if two people are prepared to make a lifetime commitment to love and care for each other in good times and in bad, the government shouldn’t deny them the opportunity to get married." Why? Because two years ago Senator Portman's son told him that he's gays, so the Midwest conservative suddenly remembered, "…the Bible's overarching themes of love and compassion and my belief that we are all children of God." Senator Portman also added that Republicans should in fact join him in supporting gay marriage rights since "conservatives believe in personal liberty and minimal government interference in people's lives."

It's natural that our personal experiences shape our values, but a politician shouldn't need to be personally affected by every issue involving individual liberty in order to feel empathy for those that are deprived of this incredible aspect of our Constitution. Individual freedom and the right to pursue happiness constitute the foundation of the American value system and politicians should always aim to afford Americans more freedom and not less. 

What Sen. Portman and his fellow Washington politicians fail to understand is that investing in job creating programs for Americans will downsize government involvement in our society because financial security leads to less people needing welfare programs. The Federal Department of Labor's Workforce Investment Act (WIA), for example, encourages Americans to get better jobs so that they move up the economic ladder beyond minimum wage and contribute as taxpaying members of society.

Unfortunately, for the last 5 years, Washington has done more to reward bad behavior than to encourage patriotic citizenship. They keep cutting the CSBG budget while rewarding businesses that send American jobs to other countries.

CSBGs help millions of American attain their personal freedom by investing in our economy through poverty prevention and education. These issues are vital for economic growth because our consumer economy needs more consumers and less people dependent on safety programs. We need more jobs and less poverty. Most Americans want to contribute to society, but not all have the opportunity to do so. Programs such as Head Start invest in American children so they can be a productive part of society. 

CSBGs create individual freedom so I hope Sen. Portman remembers that during the upcoming budget talks. If that's not enough, then hopefully he'll remember "the Bible's overarching themes of love and compassion." Because no one needs more compassion than the most vulnerable in our society. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Sequestration – it’s getting personal.

By Roxanne Reddington-Wilde
Action for Boston Community Development

The jokes are more pointed day by day.

Friday, March 1st: I walk in the door to work. “Well, looks like we’ve a job this morning. Think we will by tonight?” That welcomed me on the first day of sequestration. Or was that me greeting my office mates? A program director came wandering in later, and cracked the same joke. Everyone had the same worry.

In early February, all of us staff at Action for Boston Community Development got termination notices. “Should it become necessary,” ABCD could lay any one off, with no further notice, effective March 1st and beyond. And so all of us became personally familiar with Sequestration and the Federal Government’s inability to manage its long-term spending wisely.

A couple days ago, a Head Start site director brought by some “Stop Sequestration” petitions parents had been out collecting signatures on and paused to ask, “Do you think we’ll really be cut? When will we know? Parents are asking if we will be here next fall. They don’t want to enroll their kid now if we won’t be around come September.” She runs a single-classroom center. If she loses a critical mass of kids, her doors will shut. And, if people think her doors will shut, they won’t sign up their kids. There goes Head Start for that neighborhood… and everyone’s jobs at that center.

We’ve received lay-off notices before, when Congress contemplated CSBG spending cuts. When this one came, friends on my floor asked me, “how’s this any different?” Oh, it is. This is the law, not some possibility that might be voted in. And March 1st has come to pass. We were all still employed Friday the 1st at 5:00 and the anxiety behind the joking subsided a bit. We left with a “see you Monday morning… I think.”

Sunday morning and the Boston Globe ran a big story on “Cost of Sequestration Hits Home in Boston” (3/03/13). “Good,” I thought, “We’re letting everyone know what Massachusetts has to fight for.” Monday morning and I was feeling pretty relaxed, getting ready for work. I glanced at the Globe and saw another front page story, this one on Community Action directors gathering in DC for the NCAF conference and to personally speak to their congressional delegations on sequestration. “Well, that’s a first,” I thought. “NCAF makes the Globe for a yearly shindig in DC. Not bad, another chance to educate people on impacts of any cuts.” I skimmed the article. And there was our CEO, John Drew, mentioning the layoff notices and a new figure for me, saying he was “looking to lay off 100 staff.” My stomach sank. I did the math. We’re a big agency. Still, that comes out to 1 in every 8 staff. I started worrying personally again.

This week the jokes have been, “know where the unemployment office is?” and “So, hope you’ve got some vacation hours saved up.” Some folks are saying, half wistfully, “well, getting laid off would give time to get stuff done ‘round the house.” I’m known around the agency for public benefits advocacy work. A couple came to me and asked how long unemployment benefits run these days. I half jokingly said, “maybe I should book Mass Law Reform Institute to do another “know your unemployment rights” training… and invite all of ABCD.”

I’m proud of the way ABCD has been fighting to stop sequestration. We did a huge rally on February 25th with five members of our Congressional delegation and some 18 directors of statewide organizations whose services would be affected. All the local TV stations were there. The petitions and letters are pouring in to my department and we’re sending then on to said members of Congress.

At the last Head Start Parent Policy Council meeting, I explained how Sequestration would Head Start and the many other ABCD services. I couldn’t have been more proud when one woman – I don’t know if she was a parent or staff, and it doesn’t matter – said she decided to collect petition signatures on the street, at her local bus stop on the way to work and wherever she found herself. One man didn’t want to sign. She asked him what his mother would do if Meals on Wheels stopped bring her food. He signed.

The early-warning, lay-off notices were a wise move on ABCD’s part. The agency needs to be flexible so we can best preserve services for the many people of Boston and beyond who need fuel assistance, job training, Head Start, help applying for food stamps, ESOL and citizenship services if they are going to survive and make their way in a economy turned against them. But it feels like the government has turned against all of us.

Roxanne Reddington-Wilde has been a Community Planner at Action for Boston Community Development, Inc. since the August, 1996 week President Clinton signed Welfare Reform into existence and ABCD asked her to pull together a community conference on how that government action would affect the real lives of real human beings.