Millions of Americans nationwide will be impacted by the forced budget cuts that will kick in over the next seven months, if Congress doesn’t act to prevent them before midnight Friday. The budgets of most federal government programs will shrink, leading to furloughs and layoffs in a number of industries and a trickle-down effect to those who rely on their services.
What we’re talking about is a package of federal budget cuts totaling $85 billion that will be taken from federal agencies between now and September -- the end of fiscal year 2013. Spending in a wide range of government programs will be dramatically reduced, which is expected to result in 800,000 people losing their jobs. On top of that, more than 2 million federal employees could also face unpaid furloughs. The scheduling of these unpaid periods will vary by agency and most likely won’t take effect for a few weeks.
Congress could prevent this from happening, but must do so before the deadline -- midnight Friday. Besides the expected job losses, these spending cuts are also expected to add a “significant” burden to the U.S. economic recovery, according to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.
But at the same time, many conservatives and fiscal experts say some of the cuts may actually cut down on wasteful spending, although these specific reductions aren’t necessarily the ones they were looking for. Some see the reduction in spending as positive, since any reductions in U.S. spending helps the overall debt problem. However, the expected consequences are far from ideal -- and far-reaching.
Across-the-board spending cuts means it’s not only federal employees who should be preparing for the consequences, but Americans nationwide could be affected in a number of ways.
Longer delays at the airport
Federal agencies in charge of airport security and customs expect spending cuts to cause worker furloughs and layoffs for air traffic control workers. How does that affect you? Fewer airport employees means longer delays for travelers.
The federal Head Start program faces at least $400 million in spending cuts, which means fewer low-income children will be able to enroll in the fall. Head Start prepares low-income children, up to age 5, for school by enhancing their social and emotional development. But as the program loses funding, it won’t have enough money to support as many kids, so about 70,000 low-income families will be forced to find other alternatives to the daily care.
Teachers nationwide are also facing layoffs. Education Secretary Arne Duncan warned as many as 40,000 teachers may lose their jobs, with some layoffs already in the works. Some Head Start federal employees have already gotten the news that they’ll soon be out of work, but exactly how many teachers will be affected, and where, isn’t yet clear.
Duncan explained that the forced spending cuts will result in a $725 million funding reduction for low-income schools. The cut is expected to affect 1.2 million disadvantaged students and risk job losses for 10,000 federal teachers and aides. The cuts would also reduce special education funding in the U.S. by $600 million, forcing states and districts to take over a big financial responsibility -- covering the cost of about 7,200 teachers, aides and other staff, or turn to more layoffs.
Duncan also warned that the spending cuts wouldn’t just impact primary and secondary schools, but college students as well. Funding for the Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants, a program that provides need-based grants to low-income undergraduate students, will be reduced by $37 million. On top of that, the federal work-study program faces cuts of up to $49 million, according to the Department of Education.
To see how the spending cuts will impact your state, check out this state-by-state breakdown.
Food safety & cost
Federal budget cuts will slash food safety programs by $51 million, which will result in furloughs of food inspectors, and therefore meat and poultry plants could be forced to close temporarily. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the spending cuts would also cause shortages of foods such as chicken, eggs, pork and beef, and you know what that means: higher prices. USDA officials have specifically warned that spending cuts could compromise food safety.
Unemployment benefits are set to be reduced by at least 9.4%. The 3.8 million Americans expected to collect unemployment benefits between March and September would lose an average of $400 over that period.
The National Park Service faces a $110 million funding cut -- 5.1% -- from its annual budget. This reduction will directly impact the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee, which is expected to close five campgrounds and picnic areas, impacting more than 54,000 visitors. Closures at the Grand Canyon will also cause delays that are expected to impact 250,000 visitors this year.
Military personnel are exempt from any federal budget cuts, however that means most of the military’s civilian workforce will face furloughs. By late April, furloughs will begin for some 800,000 military civilian employees, according to defense officials. Workers are expected to be sent home one day a week for 22 weeks, which will result in a 20% pay cut. So for married couples who both work as military civilian employees, that’s a 40% pay cut for the household.
The Pentagon is facing a $47 billion cut, which is about 9% of its budget. And Pentagon officials don’t get to pick and choose which programs are cut by how much, but instead, each program, project or other spending activity, will be cut by 9%.
Veteran funerals at Arlington National Cemetery could drop to 24 a day, down from 31 a day. That would mean delays in burials for troops who served in past conflicts, since those killed in Afghanistan would remain as the program’s priority. Veterans are usually buried within two weeks, however delays could change that timeline for a lot of U.S. vets.