Food Safety, Unemployment Still Subject to Sequestration Cuts
(WASHINGTON) -- While Washington has opted to fix a few of the more publicly painful cuts pursuant to sequestration, other troublesome effects lie on the horizon.
The bill to end some flight delays that flew through the legislature at the end of last week has left critics on the right and the left wondering why Congress couldn't come to the rescue of other sequestration victims.
Democrats and Republicans alike praised the bill that gave the Federal Aviation Administration more flexibility in its budget, in the hopes of ending furloughs that led to thousands of flight delays when it passed last week, but that praise was short-lived. Members of both parties came out over the weekend to criticize Congress for letting other cuts live while flight delays die.
President Obama called the new FAA bill a "temporary fix, a Band-Aid," in his weekly address and noted the cuts it wouldn't touch.
California joins the list of states sending out smaller unemployment checks because of sequestration this week. Some states, such as Michigan and Texas, have already sent out reduced payments.
The Meals on Wheels programs across the country have been cut by on average $733,349. In North-Central Tennessee, which means about 300 people are on a waiting list to receive meals. The program in Lamar County, Texas, may have to close its doors altogether, according to Larry Tomayko, chief of staff of the Meals On Wheels Association of America.
"Many Meals on Wheels programs are already on a shoestring budget unable to keep up with the need in their communities. This may be the straw that breaks the camel's back," Lamayko wrote in an email to ABC News Monday. "And, in the long run, our nation will surely pay for it in dollars, in terms of our economy and healthcare costs … and tragically, lives, too."
The Food and Drug Administration is predicting $209 million in cuts to its budget, which could put the nation's food safety at risk.
"FDA will be less able to conduct domestic and foreign facility inspections of firms that manufacture food products to verify that domestic and imported foods meet safety standards," FDA spokesperson Shelly Burgess said in an email to ABC News Monday. "These reductions may increase the risk of safety incidents, and the public may suffer more foodborne illness such as the recent salmonella in peanut butter outbreak and the E. coli illnesses linked to organic spinach."
The FDA originally estimated it would complete 2,100 fewer inspections this fiscal year because of sequester cuts.
As areas that experienced high snow fall this winter head into flood season, the U.S. Geological Survey warns sequester cuts could threaten the mechanism they use to predict flooding and droughts.
So far, the USGS lists only four streamgate stations that have formally been identified as shutting down because of sequester cuts, but they estimate the budget cuts could force it to close up to 375 streamgates across the country.
Those streamgates are also used by America's engineers to determine dimensions for building bridges, the National Weather Service to forecast weather conditions and everyday citizens who want to know if an area is safe for kayaking or fishing, according to National Streamflow Information Program coordinator Mike Norris.
Though the number of streamgates to be cut is a small percentage of the total that exists in the country, Norris said none of them are supplemental. Each independently records information for a specific area, so those dependent on the gates that get cut will feel the pain.
The USGS receives funding from 850 other partners, but in the past five to seven years, states have cut the amount they are willing to contribute.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., called the FAA bill "a little bit hypocritical."
"On the same day when all of the focus was on the delays that we have in getting through airports, the chief- of-staff of the United States Army was saying that if we don't reverse this, we're going to have a hollow Army, we'll be unable to defend the nation, and it would take us 10 or 15 years to recover," McCain said on Meet the Press Sunday. "Look, I'm for giving the FAA flexibility, but I also want to give the military flexibility, and I don't want the sequestration cuts to be as steep as they are on national defense."
Leaders in the Department of Defense have long lamented the across-the-board budget cuts, predicting furloughs of civilian staff, lapses in maintenance of equipment, fewer flying hours for pilots and a whole host of other negative effects.
In one area, DoD received its own sequester reprieve.
In the Continuing Resolution passed in March, Congress included a full-year defense appropriations bill to give the department more flexibility in funding. It also required all branches to fund the Tuition Assistance Program for active duty forces, which four of the five military branches had said would be cut due to the sequester.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., pushed for a bill introduced by Sens. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., that would give the Obama administration more flexibility in saying how the cuts would be implemented.
"You're going to prioritize what's really important to the American public. And flying safely -- the public flying safely is a high priority. Head Start is a high priority," Manchin said on Fox and Friends Friday. "There's other things that we could be doing and getting rid of a lot of waste."
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