Note: a version of this blog also appears on the Huffington Post:
Below is a message that I am sending to President Obama and Congressional leaders. If you would like to add your story of the likely impact of sequestration on you and your family, please use the comment box below, or send me a message at email@example.com, and I will add your comment to the letter.
An Open Letter to President Obama, Speaker Boehner and Leaders Pelosi, Reid and McConnell:
Sequestration, though still only a threat, is already causing profound anxiety among people and families in the Washington region. Should sequestration come to pass, countless citizens will suffer real economic harm, as will numerous institutions of higher education in this region whose students may have to drop out if family income is reduced through federal furloughs or loss of federal business. You have heard from the large industry leaders — Defense, Education, Healthcare, Business, Nonprofits. At Trinity Washington University, I have asked our students, faculty and staff to tell me how sequestration will affect them. These messages from members of our community put a human face on the draconian reality of sequestration should it come to pass: (all responders asked to be anonymous; there is so much real fear within the federal workforce and people who depend on federal services…)
- [From a student]: I work for the the Federal Government, Department of [anon]. Currently, both me and also my younger daughter are attending Trinity. She will be completing her Undergrad in Psychology in December and I’ll be completing my Master’s program at the same time. As an employee working for [department], I am very concerned about how the possibility of the furloughs will affect our family from a financial perspective. I have heard that if it does occur, that it would be 1 day per week starting in April and continue for about 6 months. Since a large portion of the tuition that my ex-husband and I pay for my daughter is generated from our incomes, for my part, this could potentially result in me coming up with my portion for her Fall 2013 tuition a little challenging. I worry about that because I really don’t want my daughter to have a lot of student loan type debt when she completes her degree program. Also, just the way the smaller paycheck will affect my normal budget is a concern. I’ve already stopped eating out as much and whereas in the past family trips with my kids/grandson were a little pricey, we’re just driving to our destination this year to try to save money. Finally, a much larger impact is the uncomfortable feeling of how what you thought was a secure job is subject to cutbacks like any other position. There was a time when most people employed by the Federal Government felt “secure” in their positions even when cutbacks and layoffs were happening in most other industries. Well, this is a lesson for all of us that this is a very “false sense of security” and has created an increase level of uncertainty in my life personally. Given the talk and jokes I hear from other Federal Government employees, I’m sure a lot of folks feel the same.
- [From a student]: For my family, the sequester would probably result in much more difficulty for me getting my foot in the door with a federal position. Financially speaking, we’re just treading water as it is with my wife as the main bread-winner until I can find a good position with the federal government. The lead time for a new federal position is already painfully long, and we fear that the sequester would mean that the months long wait could turn into years- all the while I continue to accrue student debt and interest on said debt with no way to pay it down, and we get stuck in a financial quagmire. Those are our worries for the sequester.
- [From a student]: The sequester could cause a furlough and as a federal employee, I need the money to pay for rent, food, etc. This can literally land us all on the streets. I try not to worry about it, but the reality is there.
- [From a staff member]: The husband of a friend of mine got his notice that he would be one of the ones placed on a recurring furlough. Enclosed with the notice was a brochure called “How to Budget your Money Successfully.” It is beyond appalling that the government, who caused the furlough mess by being unable to handle a budget themselves, would presume to lecture the employees paying the price for that how to handle their own money. It’s actually rather offensive, and a sign of how truly disconnected our government is from the real lives of its citizens. The lack of sensitivity, even in the current political climate of thoughtlessness, leaves me speechless! Needless to say, they are very worried about how they are going to cover their expenses, especially as she has had a very hard time finding a full time job in the current state of the economy.
- [From a student]: I currently work part-time for the federal government under the student pathways program. I have just received an e-mail today saying that I will be furloughed if a decision is not made by March 1st. This will greatly impact me being that I support myself as a student and depend on my job for funds towards my education, transportation, food and etc.
- [From a student]: Well, considering the instability in our government, I am no longer considering employment with the federal government.
- [From a faculty member]: My wife is an employee of [department]. We keep praying that her position is safe. I don’t know how much the sequestration would affect us. We have to support our daughter who is a junior at [a major university] …
- [From an academic advisor]: Many of the students whom I advise in our School of Professional Studies graduate programs are or have been members of our nation’s military, especially in the Master’s in International Security Studies program. Unfortunately, tuition reimbursement programs for service men and women are not immune to the effects of sequestration. Cuts to tuition reimbursement will undoubtedly negatively impact our students’ abilities to progress toward completing their degrees. Sequestration means completely reevaluating plans for financing and continuing their education. My students will be directly affected by the sequester, but what this means for me, personally, is an inability to help the students I advise progress toward their goals without the help of programs that should be available to them. For me, I feel it is also a lesson in disempowerment.
- [From an administrator]: My husband, who works for the [department], says that managers there have spent countless hours already planning for different scenarios. If the sequestration does go into effect, it will likely mean that my husband is furloughed, at least some, and our family finances will be impacted. Even if sequestration doesn’t occur, the threat of it has already led to wasted time in government offices preparing for the possibility.
- [From a faculty member]: Sequestration is likely to have an immediate impact on my family. My wife, a legal resident of the United States, is currently applying for a green card that will allow her to work freely in the United States and to travel back and forth to her home country without having to undergo the tiresome and humiliating visa application process every year. The sequester will hit parts of DHS, including those that process immigration applications. Every day that our applications are delayed is one fewer day of economic and personal freedom for her. It is also a blow to the country’s economy. As a highly trained researcher who speaks several critical languages, she would be able to find work in a variety of areas. This is impossible under her current status.
- [From a student]: This impending sequester has both my husband and I on edge. We are federal government workers and believe we will be furloughed. This will be a major blow to our finances. At this point, we are unsure as to how many days we will be furloughed. There will be no spending of extras, no vacations, no anything! We’ll barely just be able to pay the mortgage and car notes.
- [From a student]: I work for a contractor with [a federal department]. There is a lot of uncertainty. Our contract is up for renewal soon and we really don’t know, how, if and for how much the contract will be renewed. The [department's] employees will have to take one day week off for about 22 weeks if the federal sequester takes place.
- [From a faculty member]: When I initially thought about the impact of the federal sequester, I believed my husband and I would not be directly affected. But I shudder at the indirect impact it may have. Indirectly, I am extremely concerned for the futures of my two adult sons and my undergraduate students. Both of my sons may be impacted as one works directly for the government and the other is a government contractor. They have been informed that “things” may change. Even worse, they have not been informed on what the “things” are that may change. Moreover, many of my students believe that the federal sequester will negatively impact their financial stability and that of their parents and other family members. They are concerned because the threats may involve multiple furloughs or the devastating loss of jobs that are already providing insufficient incomes. On a daily basis, many students struggle to buy textbooks, pay tuition, or make ends meet while participating in what is essentially a three step process. Step one is to earn a degree, step two is to find a job, and step three is to begin a great career. My sons have successfully completed the first two steps, but have not quite reached step three. Further, if the sequester is allowed to occur, it may affect my students’ abilities to even think about completing the first step, which may diminish all hopes of ever accomplishing steps two and three.
- [From a staff member]: I am a district resident and I know that the impact of the federal sequester will take away many jobs. Such interruption of employment in many households will be devastating. The budget cuts will lead to more unemployment and many persons will have to find new employment, and probably take a cut in salary. This is not the time for citizens to sit quietly and keep their heads in the sand. The slashing of the federal budget can cause chaos in our society. I think that Congress is taking a stand against raising taxes on the rich to protect special groups. I do feel that this is chaotic behavior on their part.
- [From a student]: I am a veteran and attending the graduate program by the use of my 9/11 GI Bill. I have not been able to get a definite answer but would like to know if the sequestration will effect this benefit. [We are working on getting the answer.]
- [From a faculty member]: The Federal sequester will affect me in a totally selfish manner. It will affect my classroom and the students you have entrusted to me. As you are aware, Trinity has many students that are from generational poverty and that fact coupled with so many of them being under-resourced academically, the seat time that they miss with me affects me and the University’s pass rates for their foundational math classes. Pass rates affect retention rates. Retention rates affect graduation rates. Graduation rates affect poverty rates. And poverty rates affect the general well being of the communities that we all live in, live around – or blindly drive through. We (Trinity) have everything in place for them to succeed, but I need my entire student roster here. I need a full classroom for the student-centered methods to work properly. I need all struggling students participating in our Monday Mathematics program. I need all students engaged and present for the Friday Labs.“Why are many of our students going to miss class with the federal sequester?”This sequester (from what I have read) is going to cut many of the unemployment checks that our students’ families receive. For many of my students, the only financial support that they receive from their families is money for the metro. Metro costs have gone up almost 60% in the past few years (we actually did a comparison of the metro rates in class today), but unemployment benefits have not gone up at a comparable rate. And the federal sequester is going to cut unemployment. Many folks will argue – why don’t they just get a job. I wish it was that simple. It is not. And that is a topic for another day. The fact remains that our students need whatever small assistance they get from their families to get here – to get on-campus. A cut of even $3.50 in federal assistance ($1.75 one way for many students) – will result in one less day one of my students will be on-campus. And all students will be affected – the pedagogy for foundational math (Math 101S) is written for student-centered, collaborative learning. If my attendance is cut in half or even in thirds – I will have to do some quick rewriting of lesson plans and adjust for the rest of the semester. I am proud of what we have been able to do here and anything that affects the pass rates that have been worked so hard at to achieve – just really boils my blood.
- [From a student]: I am a student and a federal worker. The sequestration will affect me in several ways. First, my family is already facing financial challenges. The looming furloughs will make those challenges even more difficult. Tuition assistance from my agency pays for my courses here at Trinity. At this point, I am not sure how sequestration will affect the tuition assistance program, but I am sure that it will.I work in Springfield and have to drive into DC for classes. A 20 percent reduction in pay, because of furloughs, and rising gas prices will also affect my commute from work to school. The challenge will be difficult, but we are trusting in God to provide our needs and to see us through
Sequestration will harm our nation in countless ways, and in particular, the harm to the students and families of our community — not only at Trinity but throughout the Washington region — will be a grave injustice, an immoral result of political posturing that will have devastating consequences for the citizens of this nation.
Mindful of the impending harm that will come to my students, faculty and staff, and the anxiety they are already suffering, I implore Congress and the White House to find a sensible and just solution to the current impasse.
President Patricia McGuire
See my blog on the Huffington Post “A Scorecard Is No Way to Pick a College”
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