Cities, Programs, Nonprofits Struggle To Survive Sequester Cuts

chairs painted by students in Colorado to raise funds for Head Start

It has been said that necessity is the mother of invention. For many organizations, however, sequestration is simply a mother.

It has forced many to hustle a little harder or come up with creative solutions to mitigate the impact of the across-the-board federal budget cuts.

In Upper Marlboro, Md., Melwood, an organization that hires people with a variety of disabilities, had to hit the hustings after it was forced to cut 60 employees and faced the prospect of eliminating another 60 positions.

Melwood places workers as custodians and landscapers, primarily at government buildings. Once sequestration kicked in, contract services were reduced to save money, forcing Melwood to scramble to replace the work.

“This is an alarming situation when you think about the fact that 70 percent of people with disabilities are unemployed already,” Judith McCowan, Melwood’s chief contracts officer, told The Washington Post.

McCowan said Melwood already has submitted a proposal to provide custodial services at the new Coast Guard headquarters, which will be located in southeast D.C.  Officials said they hoped a new contract would replace some of those lost jobs.

To stave off cuts in a Head Start program in Colorado Springs, the children decorated chairs, which the program sold for $500 each in a “Fill-a-Seat” fundraiser.

According to the Community Partnership for Child Development’s Facebook page, about 30 chairs have been sold so far.

The National Head Start Association, which just wrapped up its 40th annual conference in Washington on Friday, is using Facebook, Twitter and a variety of resources to address the cuts.

Even the country’s national parks are not immune.

Officials at Yellowstone had planned to postpone opening the park to visitors until after all the snow had melted on its own to avoid the cost of paying contractors.

The New York Times reported that the cities of Cody and Jackson, Wyo., raised $171,000 to pay for snow removal.

There already has been a thaw on Capitol Hill, after Congress voted last month to waive cuts for air traffic controllers and the Justice Department has been given permission to make internal budget adjustments to avoid layoffs.

That courtesy was not extended, however, to Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services—which underwrites Head Start.  And it remains to be seen if there will be enough movement between lawmakers and the Obama administration to bring sequestration to an end and work out a budget deal.

In the meantime, much of the work will continue to be done one program, neighborhood and individual at a time.

It’s not an ideal solution, but it helps to build a hedge against more cuts down the road.

And in these economic times, it’s a real necessity.

Jackie Jones, a journalist and journalism educator, is director of the career transformation firm Jones Coaching LLC and author of “Taking Care of the Business of You: 7 Days to Getting Your Career on Track.”

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