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The Sequester: What Does $85 Billion in 7 Months Look Like?

Under the mandatory budget cuts known as the sequester, federal government agencies must cut $85 billion from the 2013 budget effective March 1.

Right-wing pundits tell us it won’t be that bad, and that if it is, it’s only because President Obama wants to hurt the middle class as a political ploy.

They say the president will cut TSA and Customs workers just to annoy us by making us wait in long lines and miss flights. And President Obama will choose to furlough USDA inspectors so that we all pay more at the grocery stores. And, yes, they accuse him of cynically using servicemembers as props when he talks about potential defense cuts at a shipyard.

The problem with their spin is the reality that agencies face.

For example, at the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service, 88 percent of its total funding goes to salaries and benefits for frontline inspection personnel, and the sequester requires the agency to reduce its budget by more than it can save without cutting inspectors.

So, obviously, it’s not the president’s choice to cut food inspectors. The agency will have to so to meet the sequester requirements.

And that means some facilities will lose working hours, because if a USDA inspector doesn’t show up at a meat processing facility, it can’t open. In turn, prices will be raised for all consumers.

Over at the Defense Department, if it furloughed every one of the 800,000 civilian employees for the maximum time it can legally do so, the DOD would save only $5 billion out of the $46 billion it must cut under sequester. So the Pentagon must make more cuts — and that will affect our national security.

In total, sequester cuts will cause 750,000 lost jobs by the end of 2013, according to estimates by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

So far, the Republicans would rather that happen, risking another economic crash, than work with Democrats to close tax loopholes and make sure the super-rich are paying their fair share.

Here are 10 other ways the middle class, the elderly and the most vulnerable will be affected by sequester.

    1. FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund will see over $1 billion in cuts, affecting those still recovering from Hurricane Sandy, the tornadoes in Tuscaloosa and Joplin, and other major disasters across the country.
    2. Spending on special education programs will be reduced by more than $950 million, affecting 30 million children — and the thousands of teachers, aides and staff who serve special needs kids.
    3. Cuts to the immunization program that provides vaccines to the underinsured will leave 200,000 fewer children vaccinated.
    4. Schools serving more than a million disadvantaged students will lose $725 million in subsidies.
    5. A $400 million cut to Head Start will reduce services for some 70,000 kids in the preschool program.
    6. A $600 million cut from the FAA budget means the closing of some smaller, mostly rural, air traffic control towers.
    7. Some $180 million cut from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program will mean 400,000 households losing aid for home heating.
    8. Cutting assistance provided through the Housing Choice Voucher Program to 125,000 puts many elderly and disabled at risk of homelessness.
    9. Cutting emergency and temporary shelter aid to 100,000 homeless and formerly homeless people, the majority of whom are families, disabled adults or veterans, also puts them at substantial risk of returning to the streets.
    10. Some 20,000 jobs lost in university and other labs carrying out research funded by the NIH will affect medical research like that into new cancer drugs and better flu vaccines.


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