03/13/2013 01:25 pm ET Updated May 13, 2013

125 Years of Ending Poverty

On March 13, Heartland Alliance, the Midwest's leading anti-poverty organization, where I work, is celebrating 125 years of service. When legendary social reformer Jane Addams opened our doors in 1888, her dedication to provide the most basic of human needs guided her work.

Hungry, destitute and sick, people then, as today, lived in desperate poverty, unable to free themselves from it as they battled dire circumstances. She saw the need for a holistic, flexible blend of services tailored to meet each individual's needs and built an organization designed to deliver. 125 years later, those beliefs still guide our work, even as our ability to act on them is threatened.

Today, that threat is the recent sequester, and the cuts to vital programs it will cause as Congress fails to find a resolution to the issue. When the debt limit was raised in 2011, the sequester was created for -- and by -- Congress. If a long term plan to reduce the deficit didn't happen by 2013, it said, broad cuts to safety net programs will take place. In essence, it put off addressing the budget until tomorrow. And those in poverty are paying for it today.

Programs affected are wide and varied, but the implications are dire. The sequester will cut funding for healthcare, education and unemployment, among other programs. It will also affect nonprofit funding.

The last part is of particular concern to me, not because I work for Heartland Alliance but because I know how valuable the work of nonprofits is. We close the gap between poverty and stability, picking up where programs like WIC, TANF and housing vouchers leave off. It's our job to put the keys to a safe, stable, healthy life within reach of those who go without them. We lift people out of poverty and give them the tools to stay out, all while saving federal dollars.

This very month, as we at Heartland Alliance celebrate 125 years of doing precisely that, it's clear that our longevity has led us to crucial results. We've spent 125 years creating a set of services that can and do end poverty - housing, healthcare, jobs and justice. And after all that time, the work we do is still just as vital.

Even today, as we celebrate this milestone, we remain true to that mission. We teach people how to escape poverty, but the sequester threatens that work. Today we're waiting for the other shoe to drop. Tomorrow, we can only plan how to do more with less - without leaving those in poverty out in the cold.