On Friday, March 1, federal spending cuts forced by sequestration will be implemented. The total amount of spending to be cut — $85 billion — is somewhat small, but its impact is magnified by three specific provisions of the sequestration law:
1.) Major budgetary areas such as Social Security, interest on the debt, the Department of Veterans Affairs and military pay are off-limits to cuts. Cuts in Medicare reimbursement are limited to 2 percent. That concentrates spending reductions to remaining portions of the budget.
2.) By law, federal agencies that do face sequestration do not have the ability to pick and choose which programs will be cut or by how much. All cuts must be across the board, by meat cleaver rather than scalpel.
3.) The law requires savings in the current fiscal year, which began in October 2012. Because the required cuts are not being implemented until March, they must be backloaded into the final months of fiscal 2013, compounding the impact. As a result, non-defense discretionary spending will be cut by 9 percent for the remainder of the fiscal year; defense spending will be cut by 13 percent.
As a result of the provisions outlined above, the consequences of the sequestration are relatively simple to project. Here is a sampling of the impact on Georgia, as outlined by the Office of Management and Budget:
Teachers and Schools: Georgia will lose approximately $28.6 million in funding for primary and secondary education, putting around 390 teacher and aide jobs at risk. In addition about 54,000 fewer students would be served and approximately 80 fewer schools would receive funding.
– Education for Children with Disabilities: In addition, Georgia will lose approximately $17.5
million in funds for about 210 teachers, aides, and staff who help children with disabilities.
Military Readiness: In Georgia, approximately 37,000 civilian Department of Defense employees would be furloughed, reducing gross pay by around $190.1 million in total.
– Army: Base operation funding would be cut by about $233 million in Georgia.
– Air Force: Funding for Air Force operations in Georgia would be cut by about $5 million.
Vaccines for Children: In Georgia around 4,180 fewer children will receive vaccines for diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, whooping cough, influenza, and Hepatitis B due to reduced funding for vaccinations of about $286,000.
Aviation is a major industry in Georgia. Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport boasts the busiest airport in the world, and many businesses are located in the metro Atlanta region because of easy access to Hartsfield. However, spending cuts required by sequestration will greatly reduce the efficiency of the national system. As the OMB reports:
Aviation – At the major gateway airports, average wait times could increase by 30-50 percent. At the nation’s busiest airports, like Newark, JFK, LAX, and Chicago O’Hare, peak wait times could grow to over 4 hours or more.
Aviation security – The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) would reduce its front-line workforce, which would substantially increase passenger wait times at airport security checkpoints. TSA would need to initiate a hiring freeze for all transportation security officer positions in March, eliminate overtime and furlough its 50,000 officers for up to seven days.
Aviation safety – The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) would be forced to undergo a funding cut of more than $600 million. This action would force the FAA to undergo an immediate retrenchment of core functions by reducing operating costs and eliminating or reducing services to various segments of the flying community… The furlough of a large number of air traffic controllers and technicians would require a reduction in air traffic to a level that could be safely managed by the remaining staff, resulting in slower air traffic in major cities, as well as delays and disruptions across the country during the critical summer travel season.
Other impacts, also as reported by OMB:
Small business assistance – Small Business Administration (SBA) loan guarantees would be cut by up to approximately $900 million, constraining financing needed by small businesses to maintain and expand their operations and create jobs.
Oil and gas permitting – Development of oil and gas on Federal lands and waters would slow down, due to cuts in programs at the Department of the Interior (DOI) and other agencies that plan for new projects, conduct environmental reviews, issue permits and inspect operations. Leasing of new federal lands for future development would also be delayed, with fewer resources available for agencies to prepare for and conduct lease sales.
Veterans services – Although the Department of Veterans Affairs is exempt from sequestration, the Department of Labor’s Veterans Transition Assistance Program, which serves over 150,000 veterans a year, would have to reduce operations – leaving thousands of transitioning veterans unserved as they move from active duty to civilian life. The Jobs for Veterans State Grants Program would also experience cuts, translating into a reduction in the capacity to serve tens of thousands of veterans in their efforts to find civilian employment.
Title I education funds – Title I education funds would be eliminated for more than 2,700 schools, cutting support for nearly 1.2 million disadvantaged students. This funding reduction would put the jobs of approximately 10,000 teachers and aides at risk. Students would lose access to individual instruction, after-school programs, and other interventions that help close achievement gaps.
Senior meals – Federally assisted programs like Meals on Wheels would be able to serve 4 million fewer meals to seniors. These meals contribute to the overall health and well-being of participating seniors, including those with chronic illnesses that are affected by diet, such as diabetes and heart disease, and frail seniors who are homebound. The meals can account for 50 percent or more of daily food for the majority of participants.
Mental health and substance abuse services – Cuts to the Mental Health Block Grant program would result in over 373,000 seriously mentally ill adults and seriously emotionally disturbed children not receiving needed mental health services. This cut would likely lead to increased hospitalizations, involvement in the criminal justice system, and homelessness for these individuals. In addition, close to 8,900 homeless persons with serious mental illness would not get the vital outreach, treatment, housing, and support they need through the Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness (PATH) program.
FBI and other law enforcement – The FBI and other law enforcement entities would see a reduction in capacity equivalent to more than 1,000 federal agents. This loss of agents would significantly impact our ability to combat violent crime, pursue financial crimes, secure our borders, and protect national security.
Customs and border patrol – U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) would not be able to maintain current staffing levels of border patrol agents and CBP officers as mandated by Congress. CBP would have to reduce its work hours by the equivalent of over 5,000 border patrol agents and the equivalent of over 2,750 CBP officers.
– Jay Bookman