WASHINGTON – Automatic spending cuts that took effect last Friday are expected to touch a wide range of government services. Some examples:
People arriving on international flights were said to experience delays at airport customs and immigration booths, including at Los Angeles International and O’Hare International in Chicago. Officials said Monday that’s because they closed lanes that would have previously been staffed by workers on overtime. Though the spending cuts went into effect last week, furloughs of air traffic controllers won’t kick in until April because the Federal Aviation Administration is required by law to give its employees advance notice. Officials have warned that the nation’s busiest airports could be forced to close some of their runways, causing widespread flight delays and cancellations. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood predicts flights to cities like New York, Chicago and San Francisco could have delays of up to 90 minutes during peak hours because fewer controllers will be on duty.
Members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff painted a dire picture of construction projects on hold, limits on aircraft carriers patrolling the waters and even a delay in the expansion of Arlington National Cemetery. Veterans’ funerals at Arlington could be cut to 24 a day from 31 because of furloughs among civilian employees who work with families to schedule services as well as furloughs among crews that dig the graves and do other grounds work. Troops killed in action in Afghanistan will be the priority – they are usually laid to rest within two weeks. The Pentagon says it will be forced to furlough for one day a week about 15,000 teachers who work at schools around the world for children of people in the military. The teachers are among some 800,000 defense department civilians who will lose a day’s pay each week for more than five months. The Army will let go more than 3,000 temporary and contract employees and beginning in April, it will cancel maintenance at depots which will force 5,000 more layoffs. The Air Force Thunderbirds and the Navy’s Blue Angels will cancel air show appearances. The aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman sits pier-side in Norfolk, Va., its deployment to the Persian Gulf delayed. Commissaries will be open only five days a week instead of six.
Documents reviewed by The Associated Press show that more than 2,000 illegal immigrants have been freed from jails across the country since Feb. 15. An Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman, however, reiterated the number is in the hundreds. ICE officials say they had reviewed several hundred cases of immigrants and decided to put them on an “appropriate, more cost-effective form of supervised release” in a move started Tuesday.
There could be an estimated 2,100 fewer food safety inspections and increased risks to consumers because of the cuts and the fact that lack of a new 2013 budget means the Food and Drug Administration is held at last year’s spending level. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Margaret Hamburg says most of the effects wouldn’t be felt for a while, and the agency won’t have to furlough workers. On meat inspections, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Tuesday that it will be “several months” before meat inspectors are furloughed as part of across-the-board spending cuts that took effect last week. He said that each meat inspector will likely be furloughed 11 or 12 days, instead of 15 days as the Obama administration indicated earlier.
Hospitals, doctors and other Medicare providers will see a 2 percent cut in government reimbursements because once the cutback takes effect, Medicare will reimburse them at 98 cents on the dollar. But they aren’t complaining because the pain could be a lot worse if President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans actually did reach a sweeping agreement to reduce federal deficits. Automatic cuts taking effect Friday would reduce Medicare spending by about $100 billion over a decade. But Obama had put on the table $400 billion in health care cuts, mainly from Medicare. And Republicans wanted more. On the other hand, Obama’s health overhaul law is expected to roll out on time and largely unscathed by the cuts. Part of the reason is that the law’s major subsidies to help uninsured people buy private health coverage are structured as tax credits. So is the Affordable Care Act’s assistance for small businesses. Tax credits have traditionally been exempted from automatic cuts.
Visiting hours at all 398 national parks are likely to be cut and sensitive areas would be blocked off to the public. Thousands of seasonal workers looking for jobs would not be hired, according to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. Salazar and National Park Service director Jon Jarvis said visitors would encounter locked restrooms, fewer rangers and trash cans emptied less frequently.
WHITE HOUSE TOURS
The Obama administration is canceling tours of the White House beginning Saturday, citing staffing reductions prompted by automatic budget cuts that began to take effect last Friday.
More than half of the nation’s 2.1 million government workers may be required to take furloughs if agencies are forced to trim budgets. At the Pentagon alone that could mean 800,000 civilian workers would be off for 22 days each, spread across more than five months – and lose 20 percent of their pay over that period. Other federal agencies are likely to furlough several hundred thousand more workers.
Federal budget cuts may disrupt efforts to close the radioactive waste tanks currently leaking at Hanford Nuclear Reservation and lead to layoffs or furloughs among workers there. The Department of Energy estimates that it will have to eliminate $92 million in funding for the Office of River Protection at Hanford, which will result in furloughs or layoffs impacting about 2,800 contract workers.
Some college students could lose hundreds of dollars a year, according to a coalition of universities and college professionals. The 77-member Student Aid Alliance says the cost could total as much as $876 a year in new fees, fewer work-study hours and reduced grants for students receiving federal aid. Some 70,000 students enrolled in pre-kindergarten Head Start would be cut from the program and 14,000 teachers would lose their jobs. For students with special needs, the cuts would eliminate some 7,200 teachers and aides. The Education Department is also warning that the cuts will impact up to 29 million student loan borrowers and that some lenders may have to lay off staff or even close. Some of the 15 million college students who receive grants or work-study assignments at some 6,000 colleges would also see changes.
Congressional trips overseas likely will take a hit. House Speaker John Boehner told Republican members in a closed-door meeting that he’s suspending the use of military aircraft for official trips by House members. Lawmakers typically travel on military planes for fact-finding trips to Afghanistan or Pakistan, or other congressional excursions to foreign locales.
Cleanup of radioactive waste at nuclear sites across the country would be delayed. The Energy Department says the cuts would postpone work at the department’s highest-risk sites, including the Hanford Nuclear Reservation near Richland, Wash., where six tanks are leaking radioactive waste left over from decades of plutonium production for nuclear weapons. Other high-risk sites facing work delays are the Oak Ridge Reservation in Tennessee, Savannah River Site in South Carolina and the Idaho National Laboratory.
Any furloughs at the Internal Revenue Service will be delayed until summer, after the tax filing season ends, so the agency says it shouldn’t delay tax refunds. But other IRS services will be affected. Millions of taxpayers may not be able get responses from IRS call centers and taxpayer assistance centers. The cuts would delay IRS responses to taxpayer letters and force the agency to complete fewer tax return reviews, reducing its ability to detect and prevent fraud. The IRS says this could result in billions of dollars in lost revenue to the government, complicating deficit reduction efforts.
More than 3.8 million people jobless for six months or longer could see their unemployment benefits reduced by as much as 9.4 percent. Thousands of veterans would not receive job counseling. Fewer Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspectors could mean 1,200 fewer inspections of dangerous work sites.