While those tracking the budget battle have shifted their gaze to the debt ceiling wrestling match in May and to September for the fight over fiscal year 2012, the rest of the year is looking pretty grim for those hardest hit by the economic downturn. Last week's continuing resolution to fund the government through the end of the year made things demonstrably worse for those folks.
There's been a lot of talk about the overall number for cuts: $38.5 billion overall and $14.7 billion to discretionary spending, which includes funding for social programs. But what's inside these numbers? Here are a few of the larger cuts that are guaranteed to affect poor people and people of color (compared to 2010 funding levels):
- Department of Labor training and employment grants to states: $1.4 billion
- community health centers: $1 billion
- Head Start: $1 billion
- Public Housing Capital Fund: $1 billion
- low-income energy assistance program: $390 million
- family planning: $317.5 million
- Native American housing block grants: $300 million
- program to strengthen Historically Black Colleges and Universities: $85 million
- program to strengthen tribal colleges: $30 million
All of these numbers are meaningless to the federal deficit, but likely deeply meaningful for the already overwhelmed programs being cut. Many of them will do harm in ways we won't be able to measure for many years. The Public Housing Capital Fund is among the most drastic, however. The Fund pays for upkeep and modernization of the too often delapidated structures that are home to millions of working class, elderly, and disabled people of color.
As the Center on Budget Policy Priorities' Douglas Rice explains, reducing the capital fund "would prevent many state and local agencies from making major repairs or renovations such as fixing leaky roofs and replacing broken heating systems that are necessary to prevent the deterioration of living conditions for low-income residents and to avert damage that could lead to more costly repairs in the future."
And that's just one example of a cut that hurts the individuals who can least afford it, and will cost more money over time. Unsurprisingly, many of these cuts were pushed by the GOP, and by conceding to them, it's possible President Obama has put himself in a weaker bargaining position for 2012.
In a conference call yesterday, interim Democratic National Committee Chair Donna Brazile acknowledged that difficult position, but she adds that the president put mandatory spending on the table so that he could preserve some discretionary spending (hence the $14.7 billion).
"Once you establish a new baseline, it's hard to go back and increase that line item in the budget," Brazile says. "I think the president was able to preserve the baseline for education and healthcare by what I call 'enlarging the pool of cuts.' I think that our job going forward is to ensure that we're not just focusing on 12 percent of the non-security discretionary aspects of the budget."
That strategy did reduce the number of cuts the president had to agree to, but if he's unable to pass measures to increase revenue--like ending the Bush-era tax cuts--it's unclear that it will work again, come September.