The clock is ticking. Washington lawmakers have until March 1, this very Friday, to strike a budget deal and avoid “sequestration,” that is, massive, automatic spending cuts to both the military and vital social programs:
The White House continued laying out in stark terms what the cuts would mean for government services, dispatching Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to warn of the implications for critical security functions.
“I don’t think we can maintain the same level of security at all places around the country with sequester as without sequester,” said Napolitano, adding that the impact would be “`like a rolling ball. It will keep growing.”
Napolitano focused in particular on the impact to the border, saying her agency would be forced to furlough 5,000 patrol agents. She tamped down the notion that budget cuts would make the nation more vulnerable to terrorism, but said the sequester would make it “awfully, awfully tough” to minimize that risk…
Also Monday, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said visiting hours would be cut at all 398 national parks, just as they prepare for an influx of spring and summer visitors.
Elsewhere in the government, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said the cuts would harm the readiness of U.S. fighting forces. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said travelers could see delayed flights. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said 70,000 fewer children from low-income families would have access to Head Start programs. And furloughed meat inspectors could leave plants idled.
If you’re wondering what a United States that fails to fund basic infrastructure, education, and health services might look like, you need look no further than South Dakota’s Indian Reservations. Truly, there is no better place to look in the country: South Dakota has the highest Native American poverty rate in the U.S.:
More than 48 percent of the state’s 65,000 Native Americans live below the poverty threshold, according to the American Community Survey on poverty covering 2007 to 2011. In Rapid City, the poverty rate for Native Americans was 50.9 percent. This leads the nation among the 20 cities most populated by American Indians and Alaska Natives…
[Oglala Sioux Tribal Council member Craig] Dillon said he doesn’t think failed policy is to blame for the poverty on the reservations. Education, he said, is the way to help children grow into prosperous adults. Part of that isn’t just offering good school systems, but other support such as reliable transportation to and from school. He cited the American Horse School in Allen, which he said works to get kids to and from school, provide meals during the day and a positive experience…
“I believe that federal funding ought to be targeted toward quality education, job training, and economic development,” [Senator Tim] Johnson said in a statement. “Otherwise, medical clinics, housing and other federally funded facilities and programs can only address the symptoms of poverty. We must continue doing what we can to break the cycle of poverty and dependency on our Indian reservations and elsewhere, though it is clear that entrenched poverty is a multi-generational problem, the solution for which will not materialize overnight.”
This doesn’t come as much of a surprise, unfortunately – South Dakota is home to four of the five poorest counties in the country, as measured by per-capita income. Nor is it surprising that our Congress finds itself, once again, held hostage by the corporate forces of austerity. But it is the rest of us–Native and non-Native alike–who will suffer if no deal is reached (or, likely enough, even if a deal is reached that significantly trims social programs.)