Sequester Cuts Will Harm Seniors, Veterans

As Congress failed to take action, the cuts required by the Budget Control Act, commonly referred to as the sequester, began taking effect on March 1.  Spending cuts of $85 billion are being imposed across federal programs, both military and domestic.  While many of the core programs that seniors and veterans rely on are exempt from the cuts, other programs will be affected, some of which protect the most vulnerable.

First, the good news: funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare is exempt from the cuts.  However, while those benefits will not change, the federal workforce that administers them will be reduced, causing delays and limits to access.

In the case of Medicare, for instance, there will be no change in benefits, but doctors and other Medicare providers will see a two percent reduction in their payments.  This could lead some doctors to drop Medicare patients, resulting in longer waits for doctors who do accept Medicare.

While Social Security benefits will not change, services provided by the Social Security Administration may be cut back, including closing some offices.  The large backlog of disability claims will likely grow even larger.

While these core programs are spared the full force of the cuts, other needed programs will be drastically affected.  Meals on Wheels and other senior nutrition programs will see cuts resulting in 18.6 million fewer meals being served to needy people, according to the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging.  The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program will discontinue help to approximately 400,000 households, often low-income seniors that rely on the assistance to heat and cool their homes.

The Area Agencies on Aging reports that other important services to seniors will also be cut, including in-home help with bathing and dressing and transportation to medical appointments or to buy groceries.  Seniors are put at risk by these cuts, and any savings to the federal government are offset by the cost to society of the inevitable increase in health care needs when seniors are not able to get help with daily living.

While there will be no change in VA benefits, some veterans will still be affected by the cuts.  Some homeless veterans will no longer be able to receive assistance from a housing program run by the Department of Housing and Urban Development that provides grants to the states to help people find housing.

In addition, because of the sequester, some job-training programs for veterans will no longer receive funding from the Labor Department, affecting tens of thousands of vets.

Active duty personnel will also be affected by the suspension of the Tuition Assistance Program, which helps service members with the cost of courses toward high school and college diplomas.  The program provided hundreds of thousands of active duty military personnel with up to $4,500 per year for tuition at accredited schools.

These arbitrary spending cuts are more onerous because they were never supposed to happen and are the result not of careful lawmaking but of Washington gridlock.

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