The mood was grim, and it soon grew worse. As they went over the numbers, they realized that if sequester cuts stay in effect, they will eventually have to get rid of half their staff of 40.
Around the country, nonprofits organizations and others who work with the disadvantaged have been scrambling in recent days to prepare worst-case budget scenarios for the expected 5 to 8 percent cuts in domestic spending called for by the sequester.
Because certain entitlement programs, such as food stamps and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, were exempted from the $85 billion in automatic spending cuts, the most vulnerable were not supposed to be severely hurt.
But low-income families, seniors and people with disabilities will face “very real impacts,” said Sharon Parrott, vice president for budget policy at the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and a former Obama administration official.
There will be cuts to a wide range of services for the needy, analysis shows, including Meals on Wheels for seniors, nutrition assistance for mothers and children, rental help for low-income families and programs for the homeless.
Nobody knows if moves to forestall the cuts could happen this month, in the next few months or any time this year, which adds to the uncertainty and stress.
“The insecurity of that — when you’re dealing with human service needs in neighborhood settings — is just crazy,” said Lori Kaplan, the president and chief executive of the Latin American Youth Center, which serves 4,400 youth in the District and Maryland. “No business can run like this.”
Kaplan is facing a loss of between $300,000 and $400,000 in federal grant money, she estimates, forcing some tough decisions at the Columbia Heights center that houses homeless teens and offers domestic violence counseling and job training.
“There’ s no question we will be hit,” Kaplan said. “It’s just a question of when, and by how much.” As many as a dozen homeless teens seeking shelter may have to be turned away, she said.
Advocates say the fact that so many low-income residents may suffer is getting lost amid the debate over the possibility of longer airport lines and whether the Obama administration has hyped its numbers. The spending cuts are kicking in at a time when food banks are facing unprecedented demand and a record 46 million people — 15 percent of all Americans — are on food stamps.
For many whose tenuous hold on daily life can be threatened by small changes, anxiety already has arrived, from a unemployed veteran in the District who may not get bus tokens for job interviews to a senior citizen in Maryland who will soon be getting one less meal a week.
Stephanie Archer-Smith, the executive director of Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland, is facing a loss of $250,000 in funding that provides meals for 1,200 seniors, including many in the Washington suburbs. The organization may have to cut meal service from five to four days a week beginning April 1.