02/27/2013 11:15 am ET Updated Apr 29, 2013

Sequestration: Devastating to Kids

In the last two years, our country has faced a lot of cliffhanger endings to our debt and deficit issues. We've seen debt ceilings and fiscal cliffs. Government shutdowns and forced furloughs. None have posed a threat to low-income children and families like what we are facing this week. On Friday, if sequestration -- the term used for the pending across-the-board cuts to many federal programs -- goes into effect, the impact on low-income children will be devastating.

Under sequestration, the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program faces a cut of $340 million. As a result, nearly 600,000 children and mothers will lose access to this program that provides critical nutrition assistance in the earliest years of life. Additionally, 1,600 jobs connected to WIC would be lost. We know that 85 percent of low-income families feel eating healthy is important to their families; yet only 30 percent if these families are satisfied with the price of healthy foods. WIC empowers these parents to buy healthy, nutritious foods for their kids in the earliest stages of life. How are we going to tell those 600,000 kids that Congress didn't think protecting their access to healthy foods was important enough to support?

Education funding also stands to lose significant funding under sequestration, including cuts of more than $500 million from early childhood education programs like Head Start. Cuts to public education funding would have a detrimental impact on our efforts to end childhood hunger in America. In Maryland, the No Kid Hungry campaign's efforts to increase participation in the federal School Breakfast Program has already had important impact on students. Schools in Maryland that have moved breakfast out of the cafeteria and made it part of the school day have seen as much as a 7.2 percent lower rate of chronic absenteeism and students in those schools were up to 12.5 percent more likely to achieve proficiency on standardized math tests.

So, in a time so focused on improving our economy and building a stronger workforce, why would Washington slash funding for public education? And cut Head Start funding enough that 70,000 kids are left out of the program? Just two weeks ago, the president laid out a comprehensive plan to make needed investments in early childhood education. Ensuring our kids have access to early education programs puts them on a path forward, helping to break the cycle of poverty and hunger in our country. We can't have a strong America with weak kids.

Governors from both parties have come together to end childhood hunger in their states by increasing participation in programs like WIC. They hear the voices of the 16 million kids at risk of hunger in their states, whose voices have been starkly missing from the Washington debate. When 600,000 families face losing the resources they need to put food on the table for their kids, we've got to make sure our leaders in Washington hear their voices too.