Automatic federal budget cuts that kicked in March 1 have had little initial impact in many parts of the government. For a few programs, however, the effect has been real and painful, as the government begins cutting $85 billion from its spending through the end of September.
Many of the earliest signs of the cuts are being seen on the local level, in state programs like education that rely in part on federal dollars.
By law, furloughs for most federal employees could not begin before April, so it’s still early in the process. President Obama is taking a 5 percent pay cut, voluntarily returning $20,000 of his $400,000 annual salary to the U.S. Treasury in solidarity with furloughed federal workers. New Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and a top deputy are taking cuts as well.
Congress stepped in to ease the pain a bit for the Defense Department, but its looming cuts remain deep.
A half-dozen NPR reporters spoke to Morning Edition about what they’re seeing so far in the areas they cover. Here’s a look at some things we do know, a month into sequestration:
Head Start programs have already had to slash 5 percent from their budgets, totaling about $406 million. Some programs are shutting down earlier in the day. A few may have to shut down for the summer, posing a big problem for poor working parents. Others have found ways to cut without hurting families.
One Head Start program in Tampa, Fla., stopped contributing to its employees’ retirement funds so that the program could continue running normally.
School systems that receive federal Impact Aid are getting hit hard, too. These districts can’t rely on local property taxes to fund schools because they’re on federal government land or near big military bases. Federal funding is especially crucial for them.
Universities will soon see cuts in government-funded research. Education Opportunity Grants for low-income students and federal work-study programs on college campuses are losing a combined total of $86 million. Pell Grants are exempt.
Most federal aid to schools is forward-funded, so the cuts triggered haven’t really hit K-12 yet. But the American Association of School Administrators is projecting that by fall, 78 percent of school districts will have to lay off teachers and staff and slash teacher training and after-school programs.
Special education, a huge expense for schools, will lose physical therapists and speech therapists.
— Claudio Sanchez
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says it will be another week before the military has a better handle on its $41 billion in cuts, but already the Pentagon says it will harm what the military calls “operational readiness,” meaning that a particular unit is trained and equipped at the highest level to accomplish its mission.
That means some Army units won’t be heading to the sprawling desert-training center in the Mojave Desert, that Navy pilots in the U.S. will cut back on their flying hours and sailors will not go on training cruises. The Army says that it will very likely delay maintenance of vehicles and aircraft at its depots in Anniston, Ala., and Corpus Christi, Texas.
It is also expected to affect shipyards, but not as much as first thought. The Navy says some of the extra money from Congress means it will refurbish the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, in Newport News, Va.
The cuts will not affect the war effort in Afghanistan.
— Tom Bowman
About 149 towers at small- and medium-size airports have received notice they’ll be losing their funding to hire private air traffic controllers. The Transportation Security Administration says there will be furloughs of its officers at airport security checkpoints, but those furloughs haven’t begun yet, so it’s unclear what kind of delays travelers will face this summer. The same can be said of the air traffic controllers employed by the Federal Aviation Administration.
— Brian Naylor
Attorney General Eric Holder said he has shifted around about $150 million to avert furloughs for corrections officers in the nation’s overcrowded federal prisons. Holder also has signaled he is trying to stave off other furloughs at the Justice Department itself.
But huge federal grant programs that help fund law enforcement initiatives, training and things such as anti-drug task forces in state and local areas will take a hit, approximately $100 million in cuts, according to DOJ officials.
Another area that’s suffering is the nation’s federal public defender system, considered a crown jewel program to defend poor people accused of crimes. Those offices represented more than 200,000 people last year, but there are signs the defenders will be forced to take on fewer clients because some lawyers will face furloughs of up to a month.
— Carrie Johnson
Health And Science
Science and health agencies are taking a hit under the sequester — but those feeling the pain most directly will be recipients of the research grants the agencies distribute.
The National Institutes of Health, for example, is cutting an estimated $1.6 billion from its budget through the end of the fiscal year. A letter to all NIH grant recipients warned that current funding could be reduced or grants not renewed for next year.
Meanwhile, the National Science Foundation is estimating that cuts will force it to reduce the number of new grants by 1,000.
Even Medicare providers, which were supposed to be spared most of the pain of the sequester by having cuts limited to 2 percent, are complaining. Cancer doctors say that because of the way Medicare pays for cancer drugs, they may have to send patients currently getting cancer treatment as outpatients back to the hospital, thus raising costs for everyone. That, however, is almost exactly what those doctors said the last time Medicare changed what it paid for cancer drugs.
— Julie Rovner
Internal Revenue Service
The agency is affected, but it says that refunds won’t be for those who are getting them. The IRS is delaying the furlough of employees until the summer.
But the IRS already has about 5,000 fewer workers than two years ago. Both the IRS and the union that represents its workers say they’re already seeing long wait times on the tax customer hotline, and very long wait times at the Tax Assistance Centers that tend to help a lot of lower-income families.
The Treasury Department also points out that because of the sequester it won’t be able to audit as many tax returns or investigate as many fraud cases.
— Yuki Noguchi
Some parks are announcing delayed openings this spring, and many say they will not be hiring summer staff or will keep some campgrounds closed. But in an interesting example of the private sector stepping in, businesses and local governments around Yellowstone National Park came up with the money to pay for the plowing of some of the park’s mountain roads so it could open on schedule.
— Brian Naylor
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack warned earlier in the year that he’d have to furlough meat inspectors and that would mean some meat-processing plants would be forced to close. That would have all kinds of repercussions affecting plant employees and farmers because a processing plant can’t open if an agriculture inspector isn’t on site. So last month, when Congress was finalizing spending for the rest of this fiscal year, it put money back into the Department of Agriculture budget, so those furloughs won’t occur after all.
— Brian Naylor