February 28, 2013

WASHINGTON—Although the nation narrowly averted the “fiscal cliff” in January through a Congressional compromise to protect the middle class, not enough has been done on Capitol Hill thus far to escape the $85 billion in automatic spending cuts—known as the “sequester”—that kick in tomorrow.

The Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum (APIAHF) urges Congress and the administration to work expeditiously on an agreement to reduce the debt through balanced spending reductions and tax increases to avert the sequester. Sequestration would not only threaten the nation’s already weak economy, but would have a devastating impact on the public health infrastructure and put America’s health at risk.

Sequestration comes at a time when major federal health initiatives are underway, including rapid implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Without a new agreement, the ACA’s Prevention and Public Health Fund, the best tool the nation has to fight chronic diseases and improve the nation’s health, would be slashed by 7.6 percent or $76 million—greatly harming community health programs already under way. While funding for Medicaid, health care reform and other safety net programs are largely protected under the sequester, these initiatives are likely targets for budget slashing as lawmakers work on permanent solutions to the nation’s fiscal problems.

Minority communities—including Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders (AAs and NHPIs)—would be hit hard by sequestration. Close to 16.9 percent of AAs and NHPIs live in poverty and nearly one in four report being worse off now economically than a year ago. Sequestration would impact programs many of these families rely on.

“We were encouraged by Congressional leadership working with the Obama administration to address the “fiscal cliff” earlier this year and protect middle-class Americans,” said Kathy Ko Chin, APIAHF president and CEO. “However, sequestration has not been tackled and mandatory spending cuts will result in slicing important government programs at time when many AAs and NHPI families are struggling economically. If sequestration happens, the impact will rock the nation now and for years to come.”

Moreover, sequestration would greatly impact rural communities and impair efforts to eliminate racial and ethnic health and health care disparities. Health programs that address prevention and chronic diseases and tools to permanently eradicate disparities and ensure health equity for everyone regardless of immigration status, age, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or English proficiency are critically needed. The massive cuts to federal health initiatives could put many programs and protections at risk such as civil rights protections, data provisions and prevention programs, and the cuts to medical research would be big and could set health advances back for many generations.

APIAHF urges Congress and the administration to protect critical health programs and rural communities from budget cuts. APIAHF will continue to closely monitor fiscal and budget negotiations and remains committed to ensuring that public health funding, safety net programs and funding for health care reform implementation are fully protected.