The sequester, automatic budget cuts enacted by U.S. law March 1, will slash $85 billion from several facets of government until Oct. 1 — including critical public health programs. And unless new legislation is passed by Congress, sequestration will cut spending more substantially beginning in fiscal year 2014 and extending through 2021.

NDD United YouTube video

“Stop the cuts,” a YouTube video produced by NDD United, explained the damaging cost-cutting effects of sequestration on vital public health and safety programs. Photo by NDD United

However, Americans can act to help save health and safety programs, according to Robert Greenstein, founder and president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. At a town hall meeting Tuesday in Washington, D.C., Greenstein explained the potential risks of sequester inaction and the rewards for mobilized advocacy.

“There is virtually no way of repealing sequestration; the only way out of this continues to be to replace sequestration with some kind of larger deal,” Greenstein said. “[The closer] we get to 2014, sequestration may even give us some opportunity for leverage.”

Sequestration cuts fall into two categories, whose budgets must be approved by Congress every year: defense and non-defense discretionary, or NDD programs. NDDs are core functions provided by government for the nation’s benefit, including public health and education programs.

APHA is a member of NDD United, a coalition seeking to prevent more cuts. The coalition created a YouTube video called “Stop the cuts,” which explains sequestration’s impact and why Congress must act quickly to find an alternative solution. And in a “Twitter Storm” scheduled for Thursday, it will ask Americans to tweet in opposition of sequester cuts under the hashtag #nomorecuts!

Emily Holubowich, co-chair of NDD United, told the town hall audience that “storytelling” is needed to overcome barriers with the nation’s policymakers.

“We need stories about sequestration’s impact; we’re having a really hard time trying to articulate the impact of sequestration,” Holubowich said. “We thought it might be helpful and cathartic for people to share their frustrations … but also highlight some of the things that are working, and people are being creative.”

Added Greenstein: “We really need to make sure our work in getting to the public through the media and elsewhere with these non-defense discretionary cuts. We have to make sure there are bills and bills and bills until policymakers in both parties feel the need to replace sequestration — and not just to defense.”

In addition to work with the coalition, APHA has been mobilizing the public health community to take action and support public health funding through its advocacy efforts.