Sequester Cuts Hit Low-Income Families

Melissa Rothkugel, 28, of Bristol says the sequester has rendered her homeless.

“I feel very, very defeated from the sequester cuts,” she said. “I [have been] literally out on the streets. I was staying in my car. I went and got a tent and was sleeping in a tent.”

Homeless with a newborn daughter, Rothkugel has tried everything she can to bounce back from a rough patch of losing her job, her home and her car. In March, things began to look up when she received a letter from a housing authority saying she was receiving a housing choice voucher for up to 900 dollars a month to use for Section 8 housing in Bristol.

“I thought everything was going to turn around and pick up and I'd start to get back on my feet,” Rothkugel said.

However, after she submitted her forms, completed training and found a modest two-bedroom home, the agency sent her a letter revoking her voucher and putting her back on the waiting list. It read: “This action is due to the fact that the federal funding for the Housing Voucher program was recently cut by 8% under ‘Sequestration.’”

The NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters found that Rothkugel is among thousands of needy families in the state that have been directly hit by $85 billion in mandatory federal cuts.

According to data from the Connecticut Office of Fiscal Analysis, housing and homeless-related programs will be cut by at least $8.8 million because of the sequester. This means the waiting lists for section 8 housing are only going to get longer.

Experts say public housing operating funds will be hit the hardest. Landlords will also be affected. Subsidies for rent will be reduced and potentially eliminated entirely.

Jan Chiaretto is the executive director of Statewide Legal Services of Connecticut. She says the sequester cuts have created a ‘crisis’ and will have a wide ripple effect.

“This affects homeless shelters. There is going to be at least 150,000 nationwide who we know are going to be homeless. Even in communities like cities, you're going to see hundreds of thousands,” Chiaretto said.

“These particular cuts are going to affect not only low-income people but also middle class people as well,” she added.

Conservative groups like Americans for Prosperity (AFP) stand by their support for the sequester but agree cuts against the poor are wrong.

“We need the cuts, there's no question our government needs to stop overspending,” said AFP state director JR Romano. “[However] instead of sitting down and saying we need to eliminate wasteful things, [Congress] said we are going to cut this across the board because it's a good sound bite. They didn't do their due diligence.”

With a tough economy, there are few options left for Rothkugel and her newborn baby.

“There are really not a lot of resources to people who are not able to take advantage of what was there a month or two ago,” Chiaretto of Statewide Legal Services said. “They have to rely on friends on family and a certain amount of public charity.”

According to the Bristol Housing Authority, individuals currently using Section 8 housing vouchers could be affected but as of now, the likelihood is low. Those already signed to a lease using vouchers are least likely to be affected because lease commitments have been made with landlords. The most at risk are those currently promised a voucher but have yet to obtain housing, like Rothkugel.

Rothkugel says the one good thing about hitting rock bottom this month is that she can only go up from here. 

“You get knocked down, you try to get up. And right now I'm trying to see what I can technically really do,” she said.

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