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Sequestration budget cuts in effect

Across-the-Board budget cuts known as sequestration have begun.

President Obama signed the order to begin $85 billion in cuts Friday night, after he and Congressional Republicans failed to reach a deal to avert automatic reductions.

Government agencies will now begin to hack their budgets through September 30th, which is the end of the federal fiscal year.

The cuts are expected to be phased in over the next few months.

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How would a sequester affect Illinois? Less than a week before $85 billion in automatic spending cuts could go into effect, the Obama administration is getting specific about what services would be cut if Congress fails to reach a last-minute compromise.

In Illinois, cuts would impact a range of services from education to public health, jobs training, safety and military readiness. The White House released a list, including:

  • $33.4 million in cuts from primary and secondary education
  • $24.7 million in cuts from¬† education for children with disabilities
  • Head Start services eliminated for 2,700 children
  • $6.4 million cut from environmental funding to ensure clean water and air quality
  • 14,000 civilian Department of Defense employees furloughed, with cuts in operations funding for the Army and the Air Force, and canceled demolition projects at Naval Station Great Lakes
  • $1.4 million in cuts for job search assistance
  • 5,230 fewer children receive vaccines

Republicans say Democrats are exaggerating the impact of sequestration. If Congress fails to act, the across-the-board spending cuts go into effect on March 1.

Most Americans will feel the impact of forced budget cuts when their lives intersect with government — trying to get through airport security to make a flight, visiting a national park, or using federal programs or assistance.

Congress can avert the automatic cuts, called sequester, if it compromises on a deficit-reduction plan before the March 1 deadline.

But time is running out.

No deal would set in motion some $85 billion in spending reductions that would be phased in through the end of the fiscal year, September 30.

Both the House and Senate are on their President’s Day break and will have four days to negotiate when they return next week.

Congress extended the deadline for action at the start of the year when Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell agreed to defer the cuts for two months.

Here’s where most Americans will feel their impact if sequester takes effect:

National parks

Expect closed gates at some national parks as the National Park Service would lose $110 million from its annual budget. This could also lead to shorter hours, fewer employees, and possible closure of camping and hiking spaces. Even the most popular national parks, such as Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon, wouldn’t be spared.

Airport security and air traffic

Proposed cuts to the Transportation Security Administration could mean trouble for air travel. The wait at airport security checkpoints could increase by at least an hour due to furloughed TSA screeners, who check passengers and cargo for bombs, guns and other prohibited items. It could take longer to get through customs as well.

The Federal Aviation Administration manages air traffic at more than 400 commercial airports and cuts raise the possibility of flight delays, especially at crowded airports. The agency has preemptively warned its 47,000 workers of furloughs for one day every two weeks through September. Like the TSA, any furloughs would begin in late April or early May, the start of the busy summer travel season.

Education

Thee Department of Education budget would also be trimmed. Proposed spending cuts would do the most damage to educational programs that heavily serve low income families. About 70,000 children could be forced out of Head Start, which promotes school readiness for children from birth to age 5. Further cuts to the education budget would also mean less money for schools and districts nationwide.

Public Health

While Medicare and Medicaid will be protected, primary and preventive care, like flu vaccinations, could be closed off to hundreds of thousands of Americans. Cuts to mental health funding will leave over 350,000 Americans untreated.

Food and workplace safety is also in danger. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which ensures safe workplaces and investigates accidents on the job would lose about 1,200 inspections, diminishing its oversight. The forced cuts could also affect food safety — there could be up to 2,100 fewer food inspections if the cuts are implemented. This could lead to a shortage of meat in our markets, as the sale of unchecked meat is prohibited.

Crime and justice

Federal prosecutors will have to close some cases if cuts are imposed. Federal courts will see a quarter of their employees furloughed and jury trials could be suspended because there will be no money to pay juries.

The Department of Homeland Security could lose up to 5,000 agents at the border and the Pentagon would furlough thousands of defense workers. According to FBI Director Robert Mueller, the FBI would lose 2,285 employees.

Unemployment benefits

Long term unemployed also stand to lose big. Under the proposed spending cuts, benefits are expected to decrease by 10% or, on average, $400 a month. This cut will affect 3.8 million Americans, who use these benefits to pay for food and housing while trying to find jobs in a damaged economy. The proposed cuts will also limit resources at job finding centers, a move the could heavily damage the livelihood of those who are already struggling.
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