Mar 04 2013

NYTimes: As Automatic Budget Cuts Go Into Effect, Poor May Be Hit Particularly Hard

WASHINGTON — The $85 billion in automatic cuts working their way through the federal budget spare many programs that aid the poorest and most vulnerable Americans, including the Children’s Health Insurance Program and food stamps.

But the sequestration cuts, as they are called, still contain billions of dollars in mandatory budget reductions in programs that help low-income Americans, including one that gives vouchers for housing to the poor and disabled and another that provides fortified baby formula to the children of poor women.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers largely resigned themselves to allowing sequestration — a policy meant to force them to the negotiating table, not to actually reduce the deficit — to take wider effect after it started on Friday. That leaves agencies just seven months to carry out their cuts before the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30. In many cases, they will eventually have to deny aid to eligible needy families.

Unless a deal is reached to change the course of the cuts, housing programs would be hit particularly hard, with about 125,000 individuals and families put at risk of becoming homeless, the Department of Housing and Urban Development estimated. An additional 100,000 formerly homeless people might be removed from emergency shelters or other housing arrangements because of the cuts, the agency said.

Local administrators are trying to decide how to put the mandatory 5.1 percent budget cuts into effect by the end of September. Adrianne Todman, the executive director of the District of Columbia Housing Authority, said that no person in her program currently using a housing voucher or living in a public facility would be affected or put out on the street.

But to absorb the cuts, Ms. Todman plans to defer maintenance and leave staff vacancies open. She may also not be able to fill open public housing units as tenants vacate them. And she may stop rolling over housing vouchers to families on the waiting list. Eventually, she said, she may have to furlough employees.

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