President Obama

by Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – The good news about the sequestration debate is that it reminds people about the vital role government plays in our lives. The bad news is that it will hurt Blacks more than other groups.

“Part of what has been interesting about the conversation about sequestration is the extent to which we’re all remembering all the things that the government actually does, all the public services we all rely on every day,” said Sharon Parrott, vice president for Budget Policy and Economic Opportunity for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

One of the things that government does is take care of the roads, bridges and highways, but 21st century transportation needs continue to outpace the nation’s 20th century infrastructure. Projects that sought to repair and improve those roadways languished in Washington gridlock on Capitol Hill.

According to a report by Building America’s Future Education Fund, a bipartisan group that advocates for investments in U.S. infrastructure, in 2010, “Americans wasted 4.8 billion hours sitting in traffic, at a cost of $101 billion and 1.9 billion wasted gallons of fuel.”

The recent sequestration budget axe just added to that congestion.

In a recent brief, the Center for American Progress, a Washington D.C. based-independent think tank, detailed how the forced budget cuts will have severe consequences in the Black community. According to report, sequestration threatens Build America Bonds, programs designed to encourage infrastructure investments.

The bond program could lose 7.6 percent of its budget this year, costing thousands of jobs at the state and local level in industries such as construction and public transportation that employ Blacks at higher rates than other groups.

African Americans held 20 percent of the jobs in the public sector in 2011, an area which shed roughly 10,000 jobs in February, according to the latest jobs report from the Labor Department. Sequester cuts would not only affect workers but also companies that stand to lose government contracts, forcing everyone to make tough decisions.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that more than 700,000 jobs would evaporate because of sequestration, forcing many thousands to lean on unemployment insurance benefits.

Even as more Americans lean on unemployment insurance benefits to scrape by, those benefits will also fall under the clumsy sequester axe some experts say by nearly 10 percent.

The unemployment rate for Blacks was 13.8 percent in February and 38 percent have been out of work for more than a year.

“If you’ve been out of work for six or seven months and you’re trying to keep your family together, you’re trying not to lose your home and you’re trying to put food on the table and you’re getting like $1,200 a month, losing a $100 in unemployment benefits is something that you’re going to feel,” said Parrott during a recent panel discussion on effects of sequestration at the Center for American Progress Washington office.

Young Blacks looking for work have it even worst, as many of the programs that they depend on will lose funding and therefore limiting their options. The forced cuts will also make it harder for young Blacks that use job training programs such as YouthBuild and JobCorps to climb out of poverty.

Black aged 16-19 already suffer with unemployment rates that topped 40 percent over the past three months compared to 21.5 percent average jobless rate for White teens over the same period. YouthBuild, a job training program for poor youth, stands to lose one-third of its total budget in 2013 because of sequestration cuts and previous budget cuts. More than half of the young people that turn to YouthBuild are Black. JobCorps could lose $83 million in funding as a result of sequestration.

Life under sequestration won’t get much easier for young Blacks who choose college over job training.

According to the Center for American Progress, “Nearly $3 billion would be cut in education alone, including cuts to financial aid for college students and to programs for our most vulnerable youth—English language learners and those attending high-poverty, struggling schools—impacting 9.3 million students.”

More than 80 percent of Blacks who graduated during the 2007-2008 academic year, earned degrees and mountains of debt. Sixty-four percent of White students graduated with college debt during the same year.

Even as President Obama touts universal pre-kindergarten programs for improving educational outcomes, the sequestration that he and Congress agreed to undermines the survival of current programs such as Head Start, federal school readiness program for children and pregnant woman. Head Start, created in 1965 to assist poor families with children 5 years old and younger and pregnant women, may lose nearly $1 billion from their budgets.

Almeta Keys, executive director of the Edward C. Mazique Parent Child Center, a Head Start program in Washington, D.C. said that cutting Head Start at the grassroots level would be a catastrophic event for families living in poverty.

“We really can’t afford to cut a dollar from Head Start because we are serving the poorest of the poor,” said Keys. “You are cutting the people that need the most help. Head Start already knows how to stretch dollars.”

Keys said that even with private partnerships, Head Start is still short on funds.

“This is not a luxury,” said Keys. “We know that our families need these services so we will try to be as creative as we can to provide the services, but we are telling them to prepare.”

Alicia Tolliver, a parent who participated in Head Start feels that pain. Tolliver, who lost her job last year used Head Start’s before school and after school programs for her 2-year-old so that she could look for work. Last year, Tolliver said, her Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners came from Head Starts supplemental programs. This year, without their help, she doesn’t know what she will do.

“They are already at maximum capacity, if you cut the hours, you have to cut the children –  it’s a package deal,” said Tolliver. “Once those things happen, what am I going to do?”