Federal spending is scheduled to reach historic lows thanks to the Budget Control Act, which placed caps on spending as part of the deal to raise the debt ceiling in the summer of 2011. Non-defense spending is already 14 percent lower than it has been at any time in the last half-century, and it could go even lower if the so-called “sequester,” a series of automatic budget cuts that will begin to take effect at the beginning of March, is allowed to occur.
The drop in domestic spending has already devastated many programs on which Americans depend. But on March 1, those cuts will get even deeper when the first $85 billion of sequester cuts take effect.
That will have a substantial impact on food safety, education, law enforcement, and safety net programs, according to estimates from Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee. And if the sequester is left in place for the full year, it will cut $1.5 trillion and those effects will only get worse:
Food safety: The Food and Drug Administration is already facing serious cuts, jeopardizing its ability to safely inspect foreign food imports. Under the sequester, the U.S. Department of Agriculture would be forced to furlough thousands of workers for weeks at a time, causing food processors to shut down. That would cost the industry billions of dollars while further limiting food inspections. Other studies estimate that there would be 600 fewer food inspectors at meat and poultry plants.
Aviation safety: The first round of cuts would force the Federal Aviation Administration to furlough 10 percent of its staff each day, reducing the number of air traffic controllers and regulators on the job at any given time. That could mean the loss of 1,200 air traffic controllers over the next year if the sequester remains in place.
Women, Infants, and Children programs: WIC, which helps low-income women provide for their children up to age 5, is already facing significant reductions under budget caps that could kick 970,000 women out of the program. The first round of the sequester would cut $353 million, meaning 600,000 women and their children would lose access.
Early Childhood Education: As many as 70,000 children would be cut from Head Start and Early Head Start under the first round of cuts, while 30,000 parents would lose access to child care services. Head Start, early childhood education, and child care for working parents provide huge benefits to families and their children. One study in California found that Head Start results in $9 of benefits for every dollar spent on the program.
Disaster relief: The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s budget would be cut by $1 billion right as the spring storm season begins, jeopardizing aid for families, states and localities, and businesses that are devastated by natural disasters. Even the aid package that just passed for victims of Hurricane Sandy would face $1.89 billion in reductions, according to the report.
Health research: The National Institutes of Health would lose $1.6 billion in funding under the initial round of cuts, putting medical research and jobs at risk. Over the year, NIH would lose $12.5 billion, according to research estimates, a hit that could cost the U.S. $860 billion in lost economic growth over the next nine years while resulting in the loss of 500,000 jobs.
Law enforcement: The first cuts would reduce the Coast Guard’s air and sea operations by 25 percent, while 1,000 federal law enforcement officials and 1,500 corrections officers would face furloughs. Border patrol and customs agents would be furloughed for two weeks, resulting in a reduction of 5,000 officers and agents at points of entry to the United States. Over the year, there would be a 25 percent reduction in border patrol agents, according to estimates.