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Dems: Republican spending restrictions unfairly hurt people of color

By Briahnna Brown/Howard University News Service
On November 1, 2015

Panel of House Democrats at Howard University discuss the effects of sequester cuts.

House Democrats came to Howard University to dramatize how, they say, Republican-initiated federal funding policies are disproportionately hurting Black and Hispanic college students, Black and Hispanic families and the educational opportunities for all public school students.

The policy, called sequestration, was enacted in 2011 by the Republican controlled House of Representatives as a plan to force Congress to reduce the country’s federal budget deficit.  

Under the plan, when Congress cannot agree on the budget, as the nation saw in 2013’s fiscal year, mandatory, across-the-board spending cuts are made under sequestration that Democrats say have unfairly and unwisely cut certain programs.

“There are no Democrats who support sequestration,” Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland’s 5th District said. “Sequestration is a complicated word that starts with ‘S’ which stands for stupid. It is an irrational policy.”

The act lowers defense and non-defense spending by about $900 billion over 10 years. Sequester-level funding was avoided during the 2014 and 2015 fiscal years, but it is expected to return this year unless Congress takes action.

“In short, [sequestration is] a disinvestment in America,” said Hoyer.

Rep. G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina, who is the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus; Rep. Barbara Lee of Oakland, Calif., who is chair of the Democratic Whip’s Task Force on Poverty, Income Inequality, and Opportunity; and Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton of the District of Columbia echoed Hoyer’s statements.

The group held a roundtable discussion Tuesday, Oct. 20, in Founder’s Library and focused on the impacts that sequestration has on minority communities across the country—particularly on the effects of sequester cuts to education.

“Sequestration and budget cuts are hurting students, they’re hurting your families back at home, they’re hurting your communities back at home and we must do something about it,” Butterfield said.

According to the Pell Institute, over 50 percent of African-American and 40 percent of Latino college students rely on Pell grants. Additionally, 27.6 percent of all Pell grants go to African-American students and 24.7 percent go to Hispanic students.

In 2008, according to The Journal of Blacks and Higher Education, 155,000 Pell grant recipients were enrolled in historically black colleges and universities (HBCU).  Over 90 percent of students at eight HBCUs received Pell grants and had 80 percent of students at 17 HBCUs receive the aid, the journal said.

“What has happened as the Pell grant has gone down is that our students are increasingly dependent upon loans,” Norton said. “To take a loan for part of what it takes to go to college is manageable, but borrowing more than $10,000 is detrimental to students, to their future and to the future of the country.”

Lee added that sequestration is having a far ranging impact on the current generation’s future.

“When you look at the relationship between income inequality and education … what we are witnessing now is a devastating impact on the African-American community as it relates to moving into the middle class,” she said.

In addition to hurting Pell grant funding, sequestration also reduces federal funding to pre-Kindergarten through 12th grade education programs nationwide, the panel said. Federal educational programs for low-income families, like Head Start, ended services for 57,000 children last fall, according to the Committee on Education Funding.

During the 2013-2014 school year, 29 percent of pre-kindergarten Head Start students were African American and 38 percent were Hispanic, according to the organization.

Chante Hopkins, a Howard University senior political science major from North Carolina, asked the panel how they expect students like her to trust senior elected officials to efficiently challenge the sequestration.

Hoyer did not respond directly to Hopkins’ question, but instead talked about what he and others in Congress need to do.

“We need to go back to rationally deciding what are the priorities of this country,” he said, “what are the needs of this country, and then what do we need to invest to have a better future.

“The most vulnerable [people] in America – the seniors, low-income families, the homeless, the hungry and the sick – will be disproportionately adversely affected by sequestration. This ought to be of particular concern to communities of color, but of general concern to each and every one of us.”

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