Poor face most pain as automatic budget cuts take effect

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WASHINGTON -- The automatic cuts worth $85 billion working their way through the federal budget spare many programs that aid the poorest and most vulnerable Americans, including the Children's Health Insurance Program and food stamps.

But the sequestration cuts, as they are called, still contain billions of dollars in mandatory budget reductions in programs that help low-income Americans, including one that gives vouchers for housing to the poor and disabled and another that provides fortified baby formula to the children of poor women.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers largely resigned themselves to allowing sequestration -- a policy meant to force them to the negotiating table, not to actually reduce the deficit -- to take wider effect after it started Friday. That leaves agencies just seven months to carry out their cuts before the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30. In many cases, they will eventually have to deny aid to eligible, needy families.

Unless a deal is reached to change the course of the cuts, housing programs would be hit particularly hard, with about 125,000 individuals and families put at risk of becoming homeless, the Department of Housing and Urban Development estimated. An additional 100,000 formerly homeless people might be removed from emergency shelters or other housing arrangements because of the cuts, the agency said.

Across the country, families and individuals generally need to have very low incomes to be eligible for federal assistance. Public housing residents in Washington have an average annual income of just $12,911. More than 40 percent are either children or the elderly, and more than a quarter live with a disability. In the voucher program, the annual income is even lower, just over $10,000 a year, and similarly large proportions of residents are elderly, disabled or young.Other programs that assist low-income families face similarly significant cuts, including one that delivers hot meals to the elderly and another that helps pregnant women. Policy experts are particularly concerned about cuts to the supplemental nutrition program for women, infants and children known as WIC, which provides food and baby formula for at-risk families.

It is considered one of the most effective social programs in government, reducing anemia and increasing birth weights. But up to 775,000 low-income women and their children might lose access to or be denied that aid because of the mandatory cuts, according to calculations by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonprofit research group.

Other cuts might not hit low-income Americans specifically, but their impact also could affect vulnerable families disproportionately. Those include cuts to programs that aid children with special needs; job-training programs; foreclosure prevention services, and programs that help 150,000 veterans every year transition into nonmilitary work.

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