Who will fall off the “fiscal cliff?”

Programs that save the lives of vulnerable children could be on the chopping block, even though they do immeasurable good and make up a negligible percentage of the overall federal budget.

By Shawna Templeton, with contributions from Robert Zachritz, World Vision U.S.
Published November 30, 2012 at 12:00am PST

A new buzz phrase has taken over the media airwaves: the dreaded “fiscal cliff.”

Make no mistake: This is a monumental challenge for our nation. How we respond to it will have serious implications not just in America, but across the globe.

What is the “fiscal cliff?”

Here’s a brief synopsis of the situation:

If Congress fails to act before January 1, 2013, the 2001 tax cuts will expire, raising everyone’s taxes. Across-the-board cuts in federal spending — called sequestration — will go into effect, cutting all federal programs except entitlements.*

Sequestration includes $1.2 trillion in cuts over 10 years, or $120 billion per year, with half of the cuts coming from domestic programs and half from defense. This amounts to about an 8-percent cut to every federal program, every year for the next 10 years.

Programs to be cut include defense, education, law enforcement, homeland security, social services, transportation infrastructure, national parks, agriculture, NASA, and more.

An 8-percent cut would also be imposed upon all international humanitarian aid programs, like disaster response, child immunizations, HIV treatment for pregnant mothers, bed nets to prevent malaria, and more.

If Congress fails to avert the fiscal cliff, there is concern that the resultant funding cuts paired with the significant tax increases could plunge our country back in to recession. Congress and the White House are in negotiations to settle on a more measured response to address the national deficit and reign in federal spending, in order to avoid this.

Cuts could cost lives

However, cuts to certain federal programs will have greater adverse consequences than others. For instance, a reduction in international assistance funding will put more pressure on the private sector to care for the poor, both in the United States and overseas.

International assistance funding — which presently accounts for less than 1 percent of the entire federal budget — allows the United States to respond to global disasters; provide life-saving child immunizations and bed nets to combat malaria; distribute emergency food aid to those suffering from severe malnutrition; render treatment for mothers living with HIV; and much more.

Cutting these life-saving accounts by 8 percent will cost the lives of those living in poverty and do little to reduce the deficit.

Humanitarian assistance programs are also critical to our national security. Poverty fuels instability, but effective aid enables progress and helps advance our economic interests. U.S. leaders from both parties have voiced their support for international assistance because of its contribution to our national well-being.

“These programs are cost-effective,” explains Robert Zachritz, World Vision’s senior director of advocacy and government relations. “This budget, at the very least, should not be disproportionately cut, and at best, should be level-funded or increased.

“Reducing the nation’s budget deficit is a moral issue, but so is saving children’s lives,” says Zachritz. “We can do both.”

* Entitlements, or mandatory spending, account for the majority of the federal budget and include expenditures such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and interest payments on the national debt.

Speak out

Pray that Congress and the president will agree on a deficit reduction plan that avoids the fiscal cliff and protects the most vulnerable, both in the United States and globally.

Contact the president, your two senators, and your member of Congress. Urge them to support a bipartisan agreement that protects international assistance funding.

Learn more

Read what nonprofit leaders are saying to President Obama about potential cuts to poverty assistance funding.