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Symptoms of sequestration

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MARCH 01, 2013

Here is a glimpse of the austere world California is plunging into if Congress fails to get its act together soon: The state could lose as much as $795,000 in funding for assistance to domestic violence victims, about $87.6 million for primary and secondary education will be lost, around 9,600 fewer low-income students will receive financial aid and nearly 3,700 fewer students will receive work-study jobs.

For the University of California and UC Berkeley specifically, the picture is especially grim. The UC system, which receives about $3 billion in federal research funds, is expected to lose about 10 percent of its federal grants for research programs. UC San Francisco, the largest recipient of National Institutes of Health funding in the nation, could eliminate more than 260 research programs, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. And UC Berkeley could be subject to a loss of about $49 million in federal research funding.

The worst part about these draconian cuts — referred to as sequestration and set to begin taking effect Friday — is that the entire situation is self-imposed and could have been completely avoided.  Two years ago, congressional leaders attempted to devise a series of budgetary reductions so harsh that Republicans and Democrats would be forced to agree on a long-term deal to reduce the nation’s deficit. Now, the rest of the country will likely pay the price for Washington’s political game of Russian roulette.

Sequester is particularly unfortunate for California, which is only just beginning to emerge from a yearslong budget nightmare and will now need to grapple with severe fiscal constraints. On the same note, the university, already struggling to deal with funding uncertainties at the state level, will face even more financial problems with regard to its federal funding, which typically supports areas such as student aid and research. Investments in education and research projects should not be held hostage for bitter partisan purposes.

Most importantly, many of the sequester cuts will affect some of the most vulnerable areas of our society. While congressional Democrats took pains to ensure that some of the most disadvantaged individuals were largely spared from the spending cuts, many will be impacted anyway. For example, the White House estimates that California will lose nearly $63 million in funding for educational services to children with disabilities. On top of that, the aforementioned cuts to student aid and work-study will drastically curtail low-income students’ ability to finance their college education. It is morally reprehensible to ham-handedly reduce support for those most in need of help due to politics.

Citizens need leadership from their elected representatives in order to steer the country out of this crisis. So far, that has been sorely lacking. The White House, apparently overconfident in its view that Republicans would compromise, didn’t provide complete details on the effects of sequester on the states until recently. Had it distributed that information sooner, more voters could have pressured legislators into taking action to prevent the cuts.

It’s not too late to prevent the worst from happening. As officials have acknowledged, all of the cuts will not be felt immediately on March 1. Congress has some time to right its course — but legislators must act quickly and without hesitation.

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MARCH 03, 2013