Americans are anxiously watching their calendars as congressional leaders debate over how to avoid the "fiscal cliff" by Jan. 1. However, there is more to this serious problem than meets the eye. Should Congress fail to reach a budget agreement and take action before New Year's Day, $54.7 billion in federal spending will be cut immediately. These arbitrary cuts to vital services will mean that millions of Americans start the New Year with less. Importantly, it would mean decreased access to mental health care for LGBTQ youth and other populations at risk for suicide. Endangering some of our nation's most vulnerable groups is an irresponsible way to fix our nation's budget deficit, and Congress needs to find a stronger and more sustainable solution, now.
The process of sequestration (taking assets like federal programs away by force because of a debt) could reduce or eliminate the vital services upon which at-risk Americans, including many LGBTQ youth, depend. Mental Health America estimates that budget cuts to lifesaving health programs would reduce the ability of the federally funded suicide prevention lifelines to respond to suicide-related calls, negatively affecting upwards of 350,000 callers in crisis. Additionally, screenings for at-risk youth and suicide prevention trainings will be cut due to lack of funds, eliminating trainings for thousands of professionals and lowering the chance that children will be screened for mental health conditions and suicide-related behaviors.
Less immediate but still very important would be the impact felt by schools, especially regarding programs that protect students from bullying and harassment. Federal funding helps schools improve enforcement of anti-bullying and anti-harassment policies and train staff in safe and effective prevention, which greatly benefits LGBTQ youth. Drastic cuts to these important programs would reduce the resources available for prevention, enforcement and training related to bullying and harassment, essentially rolling back the clock on the progress we have made to improve school safety for LGBTQ youth.
Inaction in Congress could also affect homelessness rates, namely by endangering grants that keep shelters open, safe and operational. Up to 40 percent of all homeless youth in the U.S. identify as LGBTQ, even though LGBTQ people make up only 5 to 7 percent of the general population. Unfortunately, the holidays often see rates of homelessness increase among these youth.
Youth in our community deserve better than to be forgotten by our leaders as they discuss how to avoid the "fiscal cliff." Don't let Congress sacrifice their safety, health and well-being by inaction in order to solve our nation's budget problem. Call, email or tweet at your members of Congress -- right now -- and let them know that ignoring this issue is unacceptable. Demand that they act before Jan. 1 to make sure all Americans, including our LGBTQ youth, get the happy new year they deserve.