The talk in Washington about the "fiscal cliff," the threat of automatic budget cuts triggered by sequestration, may sound like more political noise coming from Washington, D.C. Who could be blamed for tuning it out after the election?
Here in Sacramento, the impacts of sequestration could be right next door. What does it look like? As many as 200 seniors might no longer receive food through Meals on Wheels. They are among the most vulnerable members of our community, many of whom are elderly shut-ins who want to remain independent and who rely on home-delivered meals to get an adequate hot meal.
The fact that this can be so easily avoided through bipartisan cooperation makes this possibility as frustrating as it is ominous, which is why we're asking people to join us in contacting elected officials no matter what political persuasion and urge them to find common ground, and use common sense, to stop sequestration.
In a letter from Meals on Wheels being mailed to elected officials, we implore Congress and the president to work together and ensure that sequestration does not take effect. If they can take a balanced approach to deficit reduction, they can avoid further cuts to what's known as non-defense discretionary funding, NDD in shorthand.
These non-defense discretionary funding programs, in particular funding of the Older Americans Act, have already done their part to reduce the deficit. These programs are core functions government provides for the benefit of all, including medical and scientific research; education and job training; infrastructure; public safety and law enforcement; public health; weather monitoring and environmental protection; natural and cultural resources; housing and social services; and international relations.
Every day these programs support economic growth and strengthen the safety and security of every American in every state and community across the nation. The programs represent a small and shrinking share of the federal budget and of our overall economy. The budget for non-defense discretionary programs represented just 3.4 percent of our country's gross domestic product in 2011, consistent with historical levels. Under the bipartisan Budget Control Act, by 2021 NDD funding will decline to 2.5 percent of GDP, the lowest level in at least 50 years.
Non-defense discretionary funding programs are not the reason behind our growing debt. In fact, even completely eliminating all non- defense discretionary funding programs would still not balance the budget. Yet these programs have borne the brunt of deficit reduction efforts.
When the Asian Community Center took over Meals on Wheels from Sacramento County in 2010, we served 540,000 meals to seniors during that fiscal year. Continuing cuts in our funding reduced that to 470,000 meals last fiscal year. Behind those stark numbers are basic facts about the difference those meals make. Each one provides one-third of the "nutritional dietary reference intake" to help seniors improve their nutritional health. And among the seniors we serve, 40 percent of those receiving home-delivered meals live at or below the federal poverty guidelines.
Of all people, seniors struggling to stay independent in their own homes, and make ends meet, are the last people who should pay the price of continued stubbornness in Washington.
Join me in making your voice heard in our nation's capital by mailing, calling or emailing your representatives, urging them to find a balanced approach to deficit reduction that does not include further cuts to programs such as Meals on Wheels.