Looming Budget Deadlines Threaten Safety Net

By Bridget Swartz and Morris Klein

As federal budget deliberations become increasingly urgent, there are a number of issues in play:

  • Given that Senate and House versions of the 2014 budget are $91 billion apart and that the fiscal year begins on October 1, a short-term continuing resolution to provide temporary funding will almost certainly be necessary to avoid a government shut-down.
  • The Secretary of the Treasury has indicated that if the debt limit doesn’t rise by mid-October, he won’t be able to pay some of the nation’s bills.
  • Some factions suggest adding deficit reduction or tax reform to the mix.
  • Absent explicit action, sequestration will continue its machete-like approach to fiscal management, possibly with even deeper budget cuts in 2014.


What’s at Risk

It appears that nothing is off-limits in this volatile environment:

  • There’s continuing talk of Medicaid block grants as a means of capping expenditures for a program that’s critically important to people with disabilities. If the federal government were to limit its contributions, financially strapped states would either need to make up the difference or—more likely—cut programs.
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and SSDI have come under attack, with some suggesting that rising application rates are due to fraud, when they are clearly related to demographic shifts.
  • Those who don’t support the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) are threatening cuts that would hobble its implementation.
  • The food stamps program (now called SNAP, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) faces a campaign to limit its scope.
  • Significant reduction of funds for Section 811 housing has been proposed.
  • The “Chained Consumer Price Index,” a method of calculating lower cost-of-living increases for various benefit programs remains on the table.
  • Medicare is no longer a third-rail issue. Both higher deductibles and co-payments have been suggested.


What This Means

The budget discussion is clearly centered on spending cuts, rather than improvements to the social safety net. If Congress repeats an all-too-familiar pattern, no action will be taken until deadlines force desperate stopgap measures—a “kick the can down the road” approach to governing.

Quality of life for people with disabilities is under siege. Cuts could threaten preventive care for children. It could become increasingly difficult for individuals with disabilities to live within the community. Special education programs could suffer.

The Special Needs Alliance calls for a balanced approach to these budget discussions so that the well-being of our most vulnerable populations is not put at risk.