Sequestration: Ushering in a New Way for Programs to Lose Money?

Usually, funding for federal programming within the fields of workforce development, youth development, and education is determined through the appropriations process. During this process, members of the Congressional Appropriations Committees hear testimony by agency officials as well as outside experts to inform their decisions regarding funding for federal programs and activities.

Sequestration (for more information, see NYEC’s issue brief on sequestration), however, represents a very different approach to reducing funding for federal programming. Instead of cutting funding on a program-by-program basis according to a perceived decrease in need/effectiveness, sequestration will use the blunt instrument of across-the-board reductions in federal funding.  Besides the actual amounts cut from federal job training and education programs, this approach is significant because of its detrimental side effect for advocacy. Alternatives to sequestration are still possible, but the total amount that must be reduced will not change (unless federal revenues increase due to taxes), thus creating a zero-sum situation. All programs are connected, because lessening the cut for one program would increase the cuts to other programs.

Could reducing the budget through sequestration, be an indication for how funding is determined in the future? Will advocates and proponents for federal job training and education efforts be forced to choose between their programs or defense activities and national security? Considering a widespread desire among current lawmakers to avoid the sequestration cuts, this will likely not serve as a model for the future. However, some elements of sequestration could unfortunately still be applied on a smaller scale – instead of making non-defense programming compete with defense (like sequestration), non-defense programming could be singularly targeted for across-the-board cuts or tasked with reducing overall spending by a certain amount. This approach would create a competitive atmosphere, similar to the effects of sequestration, where service providers are pitted against each other in their attempts to save their programs.

Federal Funding: A Delicate Balance between Flexibility and Effectiveness

During the 2012 campaign season, there was renewed focus on a topic that has arisen in recent legislation that would affect workforce development, youth development, and education systems. The idea of sending more federal money straight to states has been mentioned in presidential debates, campaign speeches, bills to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act, etc. Often this strategy takes the form of distributing block grants with little to no stipulations to state authorities, who then decide how best to spend those dollars.

The obvious benefit to this type of funding model is that it provides states with maximum flexibility, so they can focus on the most relevant issues in their regions. However, there is also an inherent detriment in that many of the guidelines, concerning how such funding should be used, are stripped. Many of these rules were created as the result of a specific need. For example, populations that are most in need, such as low-income youth and young adults, are generally (1) more difficult to serve or (2) they require different types of services or a different structure of service provision. When funding decisions are made only at the state level without any targeted provisions, such groups often receive ineffective/insufficient services or not at all, even though they need the services just as much as other individuals.

It difficult to try to choose between flexibility and ensuring that everyone has access to services, as there are clear benefits to both outcomes. Therefore the question becomes what is an effective combination of these two concepts.

Back to Work Special: 2012 Elections and Lame-Duck Congress

After many months of campaigning, the elections are finally over, and Congress is set to return to work on Tuesday, November 13th. While the elections did result in many positional changes, the Congressional committees that directly impact job training and education programming for youth and young adults remained mostly unchanged. In addition, party control of the House and Senate will continue as it was prior to the election.

Before the elections, many thought numerous issues, which would normally be addressed in the lame-duck session, would be tabled until the new Congress members take their positions in January. However, despite some party changes in individual offices, the overall balance of power will essentially be the same in January 2013 as it is now. Therefore, there is a good chance that the lame duck session in November and December this year will be utilized to its fullest extent. Immediate concern revolves around the FY 2013 budget, federal deficit reduction and sequestration (NYEC will be releasing informational materials on this issue shortly), and taxes.

Even though much will not change in 2013 with the new Congress in terms of composition, there is cautious optimism that more can and will be achieved without the specter of campaigning and the elections.