Too little of a good thing
If you are a student, cuts to federal funding apply to you. If you have ever been involved in or attended a performance of the arts, the cuts apply to you. If you are a female or know someone who is a female, the cuts apply to you. With that last statement alone,If you are an economically disadvantaged student who utilizes financial aid, cuts to federal education funding may affect you. Over nine million students will be receiving less funding this fall due to a reduction in funding to Pell Grants, which make up a huge portion of the country’s available financial aid. The decrease in funding is part of a Continuing Resolution, or H.R. 1, which was created in February under the House of Appropriations Committee in Washington, D.C., to cut $100 billion from spending in the 2011 fiscal year. It will be the largest single discretionary spending reduction in the history of Congress, according to the committee website. A total of $60 billion is being eliminated from the Pell Grant program.
The cut will decrease the maximum allowed student aid from $5,500 to $4,705 and eliminate aid altogether for students who receive smaller financial aid packages — about 1.7 million students. As a student who relies on financial aid to pay for my education, this is disheartening news; I, like many other students, would be unable to pay for school if federal funding is so dramatically decreased. I don’t even want to think about what a lowered percentage of college-educated people in the U.S. workforce could mean for the economy as well as the quality of life for those of us who will be unable to complete our education.
Also jeopardized under H.R. 1, which passed in a U.S. Senate vote of 56-44, is funding to Planned Parenthood. While, tragically, votes and party lines get unnecessarily caught up in hot button, religiously linked issues like abortion, abortion has very little to do with Planned Parenthood. Clinics nationwide provide women with preventative healthcare such as cancer screenings, breast exams and HIV testing, as well as preventing unwanted pregnancies.
To reference the popular book “Freakonomics” by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, unwanted pregnancies result in higher crime rates, but they can also result in a much greater number of illegally and improperly performed abortions if Planned Parenthood loses their funding, as well as a slew of other issues that don’t have anything to do with pregnancy or abortion. For example, my family currently does not have health insurance, so I was grateful to be able to use Planned Parenthood’s services such as regular women’s health checkups; if they lose their funding, I lose the only health insurance I have. Many college females who use Planned Parenthood’s services and lower-income women who use Planned Parenthood as their only source of healthcare will be in the same predicament.
While these are huge national cutbacks, we’re still facing huge slashes in Wisconsin alone. In recent months, media everywhere has been set abuzz with Governor Scott Walker’s proposed — and passed — budget repair bill, which intended to scale back on public workers’ rights, benefits and paychecks. Those cuts, while devastating, are not all that will be imposed: The budget repair bill will slice arts funding by an overwhelming 73 percent.
Wisconsin’s arts funding currently ranks 38th in the nation, with $0.43 per capita. Our Minnesotan neighbors rank first in the nation with $5.69 per capita. Should the budget get slashed, Wisconsin will rank third from last at a dismal 47thplace, with only $0.14 per capita funding arts programs statewide.
I’ve had positive experiences involving the arts my whole life, from art classes and competitions in elementary school to performing in choirs, musicals and plays in high school to attending plays, concerts and speakers in college. My mother and I even recently started a tradition of visiting the gorgeous Milwaukee Art Museum every winter break, a venue that received $40,000 in government arts funding for 2011. That number could be reduced to less than $10,000 with this budget cut.
Obviously, cuts are necessary. If the country continues at its current rate of spending, our deficit will jump to $14 trillion this year. But I feel that the wrong people are being targeted and the wrong things are being taken away. Students will suffer, women will suffer and cultural opportunities will suffer. Programs that were built to serve the community and country are, essentially, being undone. It’s a step forward to decreasing the deficit, but it’s a tremendous step back in terms of quality of life.