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July 14, 2013 12:09 PM Homelessness, hunger, the immiseration of the unemployed, decimated Head Start programs and public schools: all brought to you, courtesy of the sequester

By Kathleen Geier

The federal budget sequester — that Rosemary’s baby that resulted from the unholy alliance between political elites’ bipartisan fetish on the one hand, and their austerity mania on the other — continues to wreak havoc in the lives of millions of Americans. Like a particularly nasty and tenacious social disease, it is the gift that keeps on giving.

Over at ThinkProgress, Bryce Covert writes movingly about one particularly unfortunate group of SOL sequester victims — people who are homeless due to budget cuts. Covert notes that the sequester has resulted in two billion dollars in cuts from federally funded housing assistance programs, and that those cuts are expected to affect at least 140,000 households.

But that’s far from the only group of Americans the sequester is impacting. Consider the following:

— At least 70,000 kids are being kicked out of the already chronically underfunded preschool program, Head Start.

— Elderly folks and people with disabilities who depend on Meals on Wheels are also in for an unlovely surprise: funding for the program has been slashed, and thousands of people across the country are receiving fewer meals from the service — or no meals whatsoever.

— Public schools across the country that depend on federal aid, especially those located on military bases and Indian reservations, are finding themselves forced to lay off workers, cut back hours, and postpone vital repairs to crumbling infrastructure.

— Small businesses, many of which supply goods and services to the government, have been hard hit, and a number of them have been forced to lay off workers because their federal contracts were cancelled.

— The long-term unemployed, whose unemployment benefits were painfully inadequate to begin with (on average, only $289 a week), are also getting reamed. Weekly benefits are shrinking by amounts ranging from 14 percent to 22 percent, depending on what part of the country recipients live in.

— And, just in time for tourist season, we’re seeing an epidemic “dirty toilets, unkempt trails, shuttered campgrounds and fewer educational activities” at America’s national parks.

In addition to these impacts from program-specific budget cuts, the New York Times’ Catherine Rampell has been pointing out that the sequester is also negatively affecting public sector workers and workers in other industries. Defense-dependent industries “have been shredding jobs,” Rampell notes. Plus, in addition to a significant boost in unemployment among public sector workers, there’s also been a huge spike in the category of federal workers who are working part-time but say they want to work full-time.

Undoubtedly, there is also a reverse-Keynesian effect playing itself out here. Many workers whose salary is or was paid for by the federal government have been let go, or have seen their hours reduced. Add those people to the long-term unemployed who just saw their benefits slashed, and you have many workers with smaller pocketbooks — which means less consumer spending, and in turn, less stimulus to the economy, and fewer jobs.

Jared Bernstein has more about the sequester’s effects. Make no mistake: its impact has been far-reaching, affecting many more programs, services, and populations than I’ve identified here.

But hey, look on the bright side. Our revered elected officials are no longer inconvenienced by flight delays, now that Congress has reversed itself on FAA cuts. Glad to see somebody has their priorities straight! And it’s not like anyone whom political elites need to concern themselves with is scraping by on unemployment benefits, or worried about losing their public housing assistance. So it’s all good!

Kathleen Geier is a writer and public policy researcher who lives in Chicago. She blogs at Inequality Matters. Find her on Twitter: @Kathy_Gee

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