Congress should heed President Obama’s advice and move quickly to block the drastic budget cuts that are looming over our heads. On March 1, the so-called sequester of funds will begin, if Congress doesn’t act. The cuts that would follow would be brutal.
Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders (AAs and NHPIs) would be hard hit. Many are still struggling in this tough economy and are not in a position to withstand such drastic changes. They would jeopardize everything from federal programs, state budgets and the economic security of individuals and families. And they could put the U.S. into another recession, shrinking an economy that is just now in recovery and further raising unemployment.
Over 200,000 Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) have been out of work for more than six months, made even worse by the fact that AAPIs out of work have longer periods of joblessness than their counterparts. Young AAPIs have been hit especially hard by the recession, with 13.8 percent unemployment. And the economic uncertainty makes it hard for AA and NHPI small business owners to make plans, expand and hire more workers.
Yet, some in Congress have threatened to shut down the government if a deal is not reached that makes cuts to critical safety net programs like Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security. Meanwhile, lawmakers continue to look toward health reform cuts as a way to pay for the fiscal dilemma. And President Obama’s most recent call to avert the crisis was met with immediate opposition by lawmakers unwilling to examine revenue raises.
These fiscal challenges could not come at a more inopportune time because in less than 10 months, millions of people will gain access to affordable health coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). States are rapidly implementing the law and setting up new marketplaces that will offer individuals and families a new way to purchase health insurance. And more states by the day are announcing plans to expand their Medicaid programs. Together, this could provide coverage for up to 32 million Americans, including one in 10 AAs and one in eight NHPIs.
The ACA’s Prevention and Public Health Fund, has already funded community research and programs to combat chronic diseases like diabetes and obesity—chronic diseases that disproportionately impact AAs and NHPIs and other communities of color.
These new investments and reforms offer the first chance in decades to make significant health improvements for AA and NHPI communities. But, all of this is at stake if the federal government does not keep its promise to fund these important programs and investments.
No one denies that addressing our nation’s fiscal climate is a number one priority. But the decisions Congress and the administration make in the coming weeks will have lasting repercussions for our nation’s economy and physical health.
Lawmakers cannot short change our nation’s future and the health of AA and NHPI communities in exchange for a deal that is unbalanced and unfair.
What we need is really simple: solutions that work to improve the condition of AA and NHPI communities and create jobs. Congress needs to make investments in our communities, rather than cuts that slash the programs communities rely on the most. At the end of the day, Congress needs to uphold the social contract and commitment to take care of vulnerable communities and families.
Kathy Ko Chin is president and chief executive officer of the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum (APIAHF), a national health justice organization which influences policy, mobilizes communities, and strengthens programs and organizations to improve the health of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders.