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The Suburbanite
  • Cuts to local services loom in budget sequester

  • President Barack Obama’s administration has described a long list of problems that would result nationwide and in Stark County if the budget sequester, which starts Friday, were to last several months. But Republicans say the executive branch is using scare tactics.

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  • Furloughs of federal screeners could result in longer waits to get through security at the Akron-Canton Airport.
    A reduction in hours for federal food inspectors could disrupt local meat production.
    And a 5 percent cut in U.S. Health and Human Services funding for the local Meals on Wheels program would cut roughly 135 hot meals each day for area seniors.
    These are among the numerous local effects that federal, state and local agencies, along with nonprofit agencies, say could happen after automatic across-the-board federal budget cuts referred to as the sequester takes effect Friday.
    There could be cuts to unemployment benefits; college financial aid; school districts; child care programs; child vaccinations; local FBI, IRS and Social Security offices; the budget of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Canton; and Medicare reimbursements to doctors and hospitals along with air travel delays due to furloughed air traffic controllers.
    Both President Obama and congressional Republicans agreed in August 2011 to the sequester as part of a deal to prevent the nation from defaulting on its debts. The sequester — $1.2 trillion in across-the-board cuts over 10 years to most federal agencies — was automatically triggered because a bipartisan committee in 2011 failed to agree to a long-term deficit reduction deal.
    Government agencies say they can’t yet provide specifics of how the cuts would affect Stark County. But many federal departments provided some details in letters this month to the Senate Appropriations Committee.
    LONGER WAITS
    The largest number of local residents could be affected by the cuts when they travel at the Akron-Canton Airport.
    Cuts to the Transportation Security Administration could mean that TSA officers will be forced to take unpaid days off throughout the year, resulting in longer waits to get to a flight in airports throughout the country. The Akron-Canton Airport has 111 TSA employees.
    The Federal Aviation Administration says air traffic controllers also could be furloughed, resulting in planes’ waiting longer to take off and land.
    In addition, the FAA says it is considering shutting down its two-person, midnight-to-6 a.m. shift at its tower at Akron-Canton Airport, which has two flights depart before 6 a.m. Pilots could still take off and land during those early morning hours. But they would receive no guidance by air traffic controllers and would announce their positions by radio.
    “It may be 30, 45 days after the sequestration starts before you actually see the impact,” said Richard B. McQueen, the CEO of Akron-Canton Airport. “They’re so many unknowns now we’re not sure what we’re dealing with.”
    FEWER MEALS
    Area seniors confined to their homes could lose out on hot meals.
    Terri Barry, the CEO of Meals on Wheels of Stark and Wayne Counties, says her national organization has told her the local group will lose 5 percent of its $500,000 a year in funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
    Page 2 of 3 - While that’s only $25,000, Barry said, she’ll have to serve about 135 fewer meals out of the 1,500 a day her group distributes on a budget of
    $2 million a year. She anticipates cutting another 135 meals due to food prices’ having risen 20 percent since October.
    “So who are going to pick those people who aren’t getting their meals?” she asked, adding that Meals on Wheels is buying the lowest cost ingredients necessary for a nutritious meal.  “Maybe (government officials are) the ones that need to come down and go to my client and tell them they’re not going to receive a meal on Tuesdays and Thursdays.”
    Adding to the tension, congressional authorization for the federal government to spend money and functions deemed “nonessential” would cease as a result of a government shutdown if Congress fails to pass an appropriations bill by March 27.
    According to the Congressional Budget Office, the executive branch has to cut more than $85 billion this year. That means cuts of 7.9 percent to defense spending and cuts of 5.3 percent to nearly all nondefense discretionary programs, as some programs such as Social Security benefits, soldiers’ pay, veterans’ benefits and food stamps are exempt. In addition, Medicare programs have to be cut, but not by more than 2 percent.
    During the last few weeks, President Barack Obama and his Cabinet secretaries have launched a publicity campaign seeking to persuade the public to pressure congressional Republicans to modify or roll back the cuts. Obama and Democrats argue a deficit reduction plan should include raising revenue by ending tax loopholes that benefit corporations and high income earners.
    Republicans, who want to look at cutting or limiting increases in entitlement programs, said Obama already got tax increases as part of the fiscal cliff deal in January. Some, such as Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, have raised questions as to whether the effects of the sequester will be as bad as the administration has portrayed. Some congressional Republicans say that while the across-the-board cuts are worse than targeted cuts or eliminating entire federal programs, they’re better than no cuts at all when the country is facing “unsustainable” debt.
    Because many union contracts require advance notice of furloughs, it’s unlikely the general public would start feeling the impact of the cuts until April or later.
    LESS MEAT?
    The local meat industry is hoping that impact doesn’t hit the area’s grocery shelves.
    The U.S. Department of Agriculture has told the Senate that federal meat inspectors could be furloughed, resulting in a “nationwide shutdown of meat and poultry plants.”
    By law, federal inspectors have to check all meat before it ships.
    Kristin Clemmer, a spokeswoman for meat processor FreshMark in Massillon, said any disruption in inspections at the companies’ two Stark County plants, which have 2,000 workers, would severely affect the company’s around-the-clock production.
    Page 3 of 3 - “Our business depends on our ability to run on time,” she said. “I just hope this is a whole lot of posturing. Like the fiscal cliff, we’ll look back and say this was much ado about nothing.”p