BALOG COLUMN: Sequester hurts those with fewest options
Lots of people in South Carolina and across the country are hoping that Congress can get its, um, stuff together and keep Friday's budget cuts from happening.
But it doesn't look good.
This thing hits lots of people, as the accompanying reporting indicates. For instance, civilian Department of Defense employees would be forced to four-day workweeks for about 22 weeks. That's a painful paycheck gut-check.
As bad as that is, there are some who will have it worse. Because when you don't have very much to start with, taking anything away just adds insult to injury.
Jamie Wood, workforce development director for Trident SC Works, said the agency has taken measures to ensure that services aren't affected, like leaving positions vacant and carefully watching its budget.
Of course, things already are thin because of the statewide Department of Employment and Workforce cuts that took place this year.
He said clients may see longer wait times as more work is divided among fewer staffers. And he urged people to take advantage of online employment services through its SC Works Online Services portal. Those who don't have home Internet service can access the website at the area workforce centers. (That's all they can get at some of the rural workforce centers. See earlier cuts above.)
“Our goal is still to help people get re-employed,” he said.
Of course, the government is not making that very easy for them.
Death by a thousand cuts
Fewer seniors will get meals delivered to them, fewer people will get assistance in keeping their lights and heat from getting cut off, and fewer low-income students will get financial aid.
Some folks will see reduced services, and others just won't get helped, period.
Staff at Tell Them, a statewide reproductive health-focused foundation in Columbia, has looked carefully at the cuts, and they don't like what they see.
Federal money to upgrade public health resources, to help respond to a swine flu outbreak, for example, is part of what would be cut, $400,000 worth, program manager Emma Davidson said.
There would be 1,400 fewer admissions to rehab facilities for people with substance-abuse problems, as part of a loss of $1 million in grants.
And two serious issues for our state — HIV testing and domestic-violence assistance — would be affected as well.
Nearly 7,000 fewer HIV tests would be conducted if the cuts go through, which is not good news for a state labeled one of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's hot spots for HIV.
Add to that almost $100,000 in assistance for rape victims that would evaporate. In a state with a well-documented, notorious (in the truest sense) domestic violence problem, that's downright terrifying.
Time to act
We should be embarrassed — and many folks are — by our elected leaders' collective inability to stop this implosion. Once again the people in Washington can't play well with others, and now everybody has to suffer.
Kudos to South Carolina's own Sen. Lindsey Graham for standing up to his fellow Republicans and pointing out that the “options” they gave President Barack Obama were no real option at all.
“We've had so many people who are already taking action,” Davidson said. “It seems like most of our membership is saying, this is too important to sit on the sidelines and let it happen. Our elected leaders need to be at least talking to each other.”
If they don't want to be known as another do-nothing Congress, now would be a good time to do something.
Reach Melanie Balog at 937-5565 or firstname.lastname@example.org.