WASHINGTON — House Democrats, including California Congresswoman Barbara Lee, came to Howard University last Tuesday to dramatize how, they say, Republican-initiated federal funding policies are disproportionately hurting black and Hispanic college students, black and Hispanic families and the educational opportunities for all public school students.
Lee, whose 13th district includes Oakland, Berkeley and Alameda, , said housing voucher cuts resulted in an additional 119,000 homeless people in California. Additionally, cuts to education programs and a decrease in the maximum Pell Grant award disproportionately affect students of color, she said.
“Education is key in pathways out of poverty and pathways into the middle class,” Lee said, “We are committed to do everything we can do to invest in your education. Sequester hurts that effort.”
The policy, called sequestration, was enacted in 2011 by the Republican controlled House of Representatives as a plan to force Congressional to reduce the country’s federal budget deficit.
Under the plan, when Congress cannot agree on the budget, as the nation saw in 2013’s fiscal year, mandatory, across-the-board spending cuts are made under sequestration that Democrats say have unfairly and unwisely cut certain programs.
Sequester-level funding was avoided during the 2014 and 2015 fiscal years, but it is expected to return this year unless Congress takes action, the panel of Democrats said last week at Howard.
A panel that included Lee, Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Rep. G.K. Butterfield, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, and D.C. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton said the policy has led to dramatic cuts in domestic spending, impacting federal support of Pell Grants, education programs, job training and employment services, housing vouchers and nutrition assistance for underserved citizens.
The panel said cuts to Pell grants have disproportionately hurt students of color. According to the Pell Institute, over 50 percent of African-American and 40 percent of Latino college students receive Pell Grants. The Journal of Blacks and Higher Education said that in 2008, there were 155,000 grant recipients enrolled in historically black colleges and universities (HBCU).
Federal funding of HBCU’s has decreased dramatically under sequester, Lee said.
“Every year, we have a budget line item for HBCU’s, she said. “That line item is cut every year under sequestration,” Lee said.
Howard University has seen a $12 million dollar decrease in its federal funding under sequestration, and could see an additional 5 percent to 8 percent cut each year, according to Howard President Wayne A.I. Frederick.
Cuts in federal funding of HBCU’s in addition to the Pell Grant cuts put financial pressure on students and families, many of whom will graduate with at least $36,000 in loan debt, Frederick said.
Hoyer called for immediate action, saying that sequester will be more difficult to repeal once Speaker of the House John Boehner steps down at the end of October. He said that budget cuts impacting education limit the opportunities for all American youth.
“We are here today because of the future of our country,” he said. “There are no Democrats in support of sequestration. We want it repealed.”