As sweeping federal budget cuts set in, the impact is starting to become clear for those benefiting from special education and other disability programs.
President Barack Obama issued an order late Friday instituting what’s known as sequestration, a process of deep spending cutbacks that was triggered when Congress failed to reach a budget deal in 2011. While both Democrats and Republicans insisted that they did not want to see sequestration take effect, the parties were not able to reach a deal to avert the cuts.
Accordingly, some $85 billion will be trimmed from this year’s federal budget, touching nearly all military and domestic programs. Funding will be reduced for numerous initiatives benefiting those with disabilities including special education, housing assistance, employment supports, mental health services and research. Medicaid and Social Security benefits are some of the few areas to be spared.
Disability advocates say it will be a matter of time before the full impact of the cuts is known, but some of the fallout is beginning to surface. Officials at Easter Seals say they’re hearing that the state of Georgia has already used up all of its vocational rehabilitation funds expected for this year, for example.
And that may just be the tip of the iceberg, according to Katy Neas, senior vice president of government relations at Easter Seals.
“(Families) need to plan for some services and supports that they currently have to not be available to them. There’s going to be a real cut, and with cuts there are consequences,” she said.
A fuller picture will likely emerge in the coming weeks and months, advocates say, depending on how each program is funded. Some programs receive regular payments from Uncle Sam throughout the year, while most school funding is distributed on an annual basis meaning that cuts from sequestration are expected to alter budgets that will take effect in July.
In the case of special education, Obama administration projections show that about $600 million will be cut from the program this year, putting the jobs of 7,200 teachers, aides and other staff in question. Sequestration is coming right as school districts are preparing their budgets and parents are likely to start hearing this spring at individualized education program, or IEP, meetings about changes in store for next year, according to Lindsay Jones of the Council for Exceptional Children, which lobbies on behalf of special educators.
“I don’t know that you’ll see an immediate impact, which is hurting our ability to explain this need to Congress to deal with this situation,” she said.
For the moment, at least, there’s no sign of relief in sight. Neas from Easter Seals said she met with Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, on Monday who indicated that he expected sequestration to remain in effect for the foreseeable future.