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Donna M. Butts Headshot

Sequestration: A Prelude to Isolation?

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Politicians, pundits and passionate advocates are all projecting about the possible impact of sequestration. Who will hurt the most: the middle class or low-income families? Will seniors suffer while children fall further behind? Who will have to tighten their belts more: the military or moms?

Whatever the answers, they all point to yet another unintended consequence of sequestration: a feeling of isolation. In fact, one of the more obscure definitions of sequestration is "the act of going into or putting somebody in an isolated place."

Currently, Congress seems to be content putting groups of people in isolated places. Apparently, they believe that if someone wins, someone else must lose. For example, if we keep Social Security and Medicare benefits for older adults, then we must cut funding for young people, in the form of early education, nutrition programs, etc. Conversely, if we invest in programs for children, then we must cut benefits for our older citizens. Under either scenario, we risk isolating the generations and pitting one against the other.

But does reducing the deficit truly mean having to split our society into factions?

That may be how Congress understands it, but it's not what "the people" really want. We the people understand all too well that cuts to granny hurt Danny in the long run. And failing to invest in strong beginnings for children guarantees poor endings for all of us.

In times of tight resources, we have always come together and supported each other. Families understand this. They know how to budget, they figure out how to make resources go further. They sacrifice for each other and they live together.

During the recent economic downturn, the number of multigenerational households grew by 10 percent to 51.4 million or one in six people. That increase spawned many articles about the trials and tribulations of having several generations living together under one roof. Yet, a 2011 survey conducted by Harris Interactive for Generations United found that, while some aspects of these arrangements can be stressful, 82 percent of people living in multigenerational families found the situation helped them feel closer and 72 percent said it helped a family member financially.

At Generations United, our motto is, "Because we're stronger together." That's how it's always been and how it will always be. It's human nature. No one wants to feel isolated or marginalized or envied or hated. No one wants to be a have not. We all want to belong.

The government has managed to raise $700 billion in revenues, but with the sequester (if allowed to stay in place all 10 years), we face $2.7 billion in cuts, almost all of it from the discretionary side. This approach hurts children and older adults alike. Those living in families with low incomes will be hit the hardest as a result of cuts to critical supports. They will bear the brunt of the pain when $333 million is sliced from WIC (affecting as many as 600,000 women and children), $86 million is lopped from Older Americans Act programs, including senior nutrition and the National Family Caregiver Support Program, and $117 million is pared from the Social Services Block Grant, which helps protect children and older adults from abuse and neglect.

Perhaps if members of Congress started thinking like a family, they could force themselves to find an agreement that recognizes that keeping protections and smart investments in one generation benefit the other and, ultimately, the economy as a whole.

In his inaugural address the president said, "We reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generations that will build its future." Washington needs to do better and understand it's not a fight, it's a family. If Americans can pull together, so can our policy makers.

When debating how to reduce the government, Congress should remember that in America government is "of the people, by the people, and for the people." That should be the guiding principle for everything they do.

And if such lofty thinking doesn't spur Congress to reach a compassionate middle ground, then perhaps they need to remember the cautionary words of Charles Dickens in his famous work, A Christmas Carol. In that tale, the Ghost of Christmas Present warns Scrooge about what can happen when people are treated with neither dignity nor kindness. As the ghost lifts his robe to reveal two emaciated children, he says, "This boy is Ignorance and this girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased."