Sequester would impact Louisiana's seniors, low-income residents - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

Sequester would impact Louisiana's seniors, low-income residents

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New Orleans, La. — People overseeing programs that benefit poor children and senior citizens are expressing grave concerns as we move closer to Friday's deadline to head off the sequester -- a budget move that would cut billions of dollars in federal funding.

The White House says everything from vaccinations for Louisiana children, Head Start programs for young kids, and the Meals on Wheels program would be impacted.  But La. Governor Bobby Jindal said this week that, if the president is so concerned about the impact of the across-the-board cuts, he should delay implementation of his health care reforms and save billions of dollars. Jindal also accuses the president of campaigning instead of working with Congress to solve the problem.

Two years ago, President Obama and Congressional Republican leaders agreed to the sequester legislation, mandating $85 billion in cuts on March 1, 2013 if agreement could not be reached on addressing the national debt. The legislation was part of a deal to get Congress to raise the national debt limit.

In New Orleans, many preschool-aged children come from families who cannot afford to pay for early education.  That is where Head Start programs come in for many families.   The Obama Administration says Head Start would be eliminated for about 1,400 children in Louisiana alone.

"This agency's whole mission is to help low-income families move to self sufficiency.  So when we look at what the potential is, there's a lot of uncertainty," said Thelma French, executive director of Total Community Action which operates a Head Start program.

And the Obama administration said around 1,730 fewer children in the state will receive vaccines for measles, mumps, rubella, and other diseases if the cuts happen.

FOX 8 News contacted the State Department of Health and Hospitals for comment.  In response, DHH Spokesman Ken Pastorek issued a statement Thursday evening:

It is difficult to imagine that a reduction of less than three percent of the total federal budget must first target vital programs and services. The President and Congress need to seek efficiencies, prioritize reductions and protect critical services. That's what we've done in Louisiana, and it's what we will continue to do if sequestration takes effect.

French has a message for members of Congress about the impending funding cuts.  "Put on your big-people pants, sit down and act hard," French said.

The New Orleans Council on Aging feeds thousands of senior citizens and operates senior centers; it's also bracing for cuts.

"This is adding more to the pile," said Howard Rodgers, executive director of the Council on Aging.

The White House says Louisiana will lose nearly half a million dollars used to provide meals for seniors.  "That kind of translates into 97,000 meals statewide," Rodgers stated.

Rodgers said New Orleans feeds more seniors than any other Louisiana city through Meals on Wheels.  He said currently 400 meals are doled out daily across the city through the program and another 300 meals are dished up for residents at senior centers.

"Certainly we're going to lose a number of people off of Meals on Wheels in New Orleans, and right now we have a waiting list," said Rodgers.

TCA also helps some 6,500 seniors with utility bills.  "Those people are barely making it on fixed incomes and so anything that challenges their ability to stay independent is a worry to us," said French.

"My message to the Congress is I hope that they would get together, sit down and work this out because you are jeopardizing the lives of a lot of seniors around this country," said Rodgers.

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