Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings was having breakfast at a restaurant the other day when a constituent approached him to talk about how the sequester's across-the-board spending cuts will impact her family.
"The woman works for the Defense Department and was told she'll have to take four furlough days per month until September," Cummings recalled. "She said that's $800 a month out of her paycheck. She has one child in college and one 11-year-old. I didn't ask how much she's paid, but she's probably not making a whole lot of money."
Cummings fears it's the kind of story he's going to be hearing often as federal budget cuts gradually take effect. He's also worried about the impact on African-Americans who work in federal, state and local government jobs in disproportionately high numbers, as well as those who depend on government for a helping hand.
"African-Americans should be very concerned. Just this morning we had an Oversight Committee hearing where an Education Department deputy secretary said that immediately there would be cuts to Title 1 programs in schools and that certainly affects African-American children tremendously. And of course there would be a loss of jobs," he told BET.com Tuesday.
Citing a warning from one of his Republican colleagues on the committee that a lot more cuts to different programs should be expected, Cummings believes the sequester is the beginning of what he called a slippery slope to squeeze government. He also believes some of them could be avoided. According to the Maryland lawmaker, education cuts, for example, could be averted if Congress closed tax loopholes for big oil companies, but Republicans are unwilling to do that.
"I see this as the beginning of a slippery slope to cut, cut, cut, to squeeze government. And in many instances African-American people need government to work for them," he added. "They're not working for handouts; they're just trying to make sure that they have a hand."
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