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Federal Sequestration

sequester

Across-the-board budget cuts will take effect because Congress can’t reach an agreement on how to reduce the nation’s deficit. President Obama signed the order triggering the so-called sequestration late Friday evening. Federal law required the order be signed before midnight. The sequestration, or sequester, will cut $1.2 trillion from defense and non-defense spending over the next 10 years. Both parties agreed to the cuts as a part of the Budget Control Act in 2011. The agreement was designed to encourage Democrats and Republicans to come to a compromise so that their favored programs wouldn’t be cut. Education and other social programs will be affected, something Democrats say will greatly hurt the nation’s struggling economy. The Department of Defense will also face steep cuts, something Republicans say could put our nation’s security at risk.

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Federal sequestration will force the Indianapolis Housing Agency to the trim the budget—a move that will result in layoffs.

IHA receives most of its funding from the federal government, and with deep cuts going into effect on March 1, the agency had to make some changes. In all, IHA needs to trim $3.8 million.

In April, the agency implemented furlough days, requiring workers to take nine days of unpaid leave through the end of the year. Now, the agency will lay off eight employees and leave vacant positions unfilled. Some of the workers will have the option of transferring to lower-paying positions.

Other changes include freezing hours for part-time employees during weeks when other employees are on furlough, delaying capital technology expenditures and delaying central office building repair. The cuts will offset about $1.4 million, but more cuts could be forthcoming depending on what happens with federal sequestration.

Each year, IHA helps more than 9,600 families find and maintain affordable housing through the Section 8 voucher program.

The U.S. Senate approved legislation to end air traffic control furloughs Thursday.

The Federal Aviation Administration will shift $250 million to cover spending cuts brought on by the sequester.

The move will also stop the closure of almost 150 towers at small airports.

The House is expected to vote on the measure Friday.

The fight over federal funding is now impacting the Indy 500.

There won’t be any government funded fly-overs of any military style jets at this year’s race.  Only private plane owners will be taking part in any events during the Indy 500 weekend.

There also won’t be an active duty military parade; instead, they will have a veterans parade.

The government has made similar moves with other military jets, including the Blue Angels.

MONROE COUNTY – Families across Indiana and the country will soon face tough decisions regarding early childhood education and childcare, as the federal sequester forces a five-percent cut to Head Start programs.

Monroe County just announced sweeping cuts to its Head Start program this week, and it’s just a matter of time before others will be forced to do the same.

Jessica Grogan got the news when she picked up her son from Head Start on Wednesday. She was told her son’s class would be ending a month early and that he likely won’t make it into a summer program.

“He’s just now really getting to the point where he’s doing better on everything and I feel like these last few months would have just been good for him right before kindergarten,” Grogan said.

The sequester is forcing Monroe County Head Start to cut five percent of its yearly budget in just over half a year’s time. They began by closing a Head Start classroom at Lakeview Elementary in southern Monroe County, but that’s just the beginning.

The South Central Indiana Action Program board and Head Start policy council voted to cut 12 slots for Head Start students, 25 slots for home-based Early Head Start, 72 slots for summer programs and 15 Head Start employees.

In order to keep the most spots open for children, not all of the cuts will be reflected in the classroom. Monroe County will also cut all bus transportation for the summer and all of the next school year.

“We don’t have a lot of other places to cut because the majority of our stuff is staffing and locations and rent,” said Head Start Director Blakely Clements. “So you can’t really go much further than where we are.”

Monroe County is among the first to address the five percent sequester hit, but it’s far from the last. All counties face similar decisions. According to the White House, Indiana stands to lose 1,000 slots for Head Start in the coming months.

“We look at not just our children losing slots and them losing school time, we also have families that will be losing income and other things along that line,” Clements said. “So it’s a broader spectrum than most people expect.”

“I’m just a little lost I guess,” Grogan said.

Jessica also has a 2-year-old daughter in Early Head Start, and if she doesn’t get in again next year, she says she’ll be forced to switch shifts or possibly lose her job.

“There’s hundreds of parents that are being affected by this and everybody is being affected in a different way,” Grogan said. “It’s just devastating.”

Since budget decisions for Head Start programs depend on the timing of each federal grant, more Central Indiana counties will be announcing cuts in the coming weeks.

Men and women who served in Afghanistan, Iraq and many other places around the world say they are getting a raw deal from the politicians in Washington, D.C.  Nearly 700 people in Indiana are losing a benefit promised to them by the Pentagon.

More than a decade of service has given Officer Marquitta Newett plenty of overseas experience.

“I spent my first tour in Germany, and I have been over to Iraq, and after about 12 years of service I decided to become an officer,” said Newett.

Now, Officer Newett is trying to transition into the next phase, from service to civilian life.

“I received my associate’s degree in accounting, and I received my bachelor’s degree in accounting, so right now tuition assistance, being in the guard helps a lot because I am working on my master’s degree,” said Newett.

Newett’s dream of earning her master’s, and becoming a CPA is taking a major hit.

There are three ways members of the military can receive financial aid:
- Supplemental Grant
- G.I. Bill
- Federal Tuition Assistance

The sequester is whiping away Federal Tuition Assistance completely.

“It hurt,” said Sergeant Joey Cope.  “It hurt for sure.”

Cope was looking forward to going back to school but that is not happening anymore, at least not right now.

“I would say 70 percent of our soldiers enlist for tuition assistance,” said Cope.  “It is the number one reason why they enlist. It is not for the sign-on bonus, they do it for the school.  That is what is going to help them the most in their future.”

In all, between 500 and 700 Guardsmen receive Federal Tuition Assistance every semester.  Colonel Lee Baker said the cuts of the sequestration could be deep when it comes recruiting new members and keeping current ones to re-enlist.

“We’re responsible for managing the organization, and if you don’t have the people, you can’t manage the organization,” said Baker.

Baker said he is optimistic that something will get done to pay military members back for their service.

Newett said it is a chance to find another use for what she learned on the battlefield.

“You cannot allow one barrier to hold you back, you have to find a way around it, and that is what we have to do as soldiers is to push forward and do not let it stop us,” said Newett.

The effects of the national budget crisis is casting a dark cloud over Crane Naval Base in Crane, Ind.

“We have single parents that work here, parents, both mothers and fathers, we have grandparents that work here, I mean it’s going to affect everyone,” said employee Tamara Dickens.

For the first time in the base’s history, a protest was held outside the entrance Friday.

“We feel enough is enough,” said Jimmy Colvin, AFGE Local 1415 President.

The goal of the protest is to send a message to Congress.

“They have the authority to go forth and stop this sequestration and stop the furloughs and stop the pay freezes, if they would just get off their backsides and get it done,” said Colvin.

About 5,000 workers- half of whom are members of the government employees union- face 22 days off without pay each year and a long-term pay freeze. The union said the furlough means a 20 percent cut in pay, which will create a $46 million loss in to the local tax base.

“You cut them by 20 percent, it’s going to have a devastating effect on those people and it’s going to have a devastating effect on the community because we’re gonna have 20 percent less money to spend.”

Employees are contacting their congressmen, urging them to balance the federal budget and end the sequester.

“We’ve urged everyone in the communities to write their congressman because this is going to be devastating,” said 29-year Crane employee, Mary Crow.

The impact of the sequester will be felt sooner than later at Crane. The mandatory 22 days off without pay are scheduled to be taken between April and September.

Civilian employees at Crane naval base are taking unprecedented action by planning a widespread protest, which could be the first in the history of the naval base.

The public doesn’t often get to see much about the work that goes on inside the Naval Support Activity Crane, but on Friday, some of the 3,500 plus civilian workers will take their frustrations with sequester furloughs to the public right outside the front gate.

“We’re all going to struggle,” said Tamara Dickens, a representative for the Army side of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1415.

Dickens and Mary Crow, who represents the Navy side of the AFGE Local 1415, will be among those gathering on Friday to protest just outside the main entrance to the NSA Crane.

“We have people that have been deployed,” Crow said. “The Army side works with bombs. We do a lot of things for the military and when we see Congress get on television and say that this sequestration is not affecting anybody, well they’re not cutting their pay by 20 percent.”

Crow said employees have already dealt with a three-year pay freeze, but if Congress doesn’t act soon, a 22-day furlough will go into effect in late April. They will lose roughly 20 percent of their pay until September. That could have a far reaching impact.

“It’s not just going to affect the people here that work for the government,” Dickens said. “It’s going to also affect the communities.”

“Crane is the largest employer in the surrounding counties and Davis, Martin, Lawrence and Greene are going to be devastated by this because you’re talking around $45 million that’s not going to be going into the economy,” Crow said, “plus the reduction in the tax base for these counties and the entire state.”

After years of working in a place where politicians often visit, Dickens said she simply hopes they listen to this message.

“Don’t forget the people here in the small towns that voted for you, that put you into office,” she said. “You were put there by being voted for and, you know what, you can be removed.”

Friday’s protest will run from 11 a.m. until 12 p.m. in the parking lot of the Lonely Night Saloon, near Crane’s main gated entrance off Ind. 231.

The Indiana Air National Guard has notified the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that it won’t be providing this year’s flyover for the Indianapolis 500 due to the sequester, and next week the Guard will learn if other community support efforts will be cut back as well.

IMS officials still vow to make the flyover a reality, and they’re making contingency plans for other military-related events during the festivities.

“At some level we’re still at business as usual,” said IMS Spokesman Doug Boles, who says they are still awaiting paperwork from the other branches of the military regarding the flyover.

“Now, obviously we’re watching this as an interested observer because we’d like to know what happens so we can figure out what our backup plan will be.”

If the other military branches are also forced to cut back on flyovers, Boles says they will pay for a civilian owned aircraft.

“We believe that no matter what happens with the things going on in Washington, D.C. and what the military’s restraints are, that we’ll have a flyover on race day,” Boles said.

Late this week, the Indiana National Guard received a letter laying out some of the sequester-related cutbacks. The letter addresses community support efforts, which could include everything from National Guard involvement in community parades to appearances during the Indianapolis 500.

According to the Indiana National Guard, the specific impact to community support won’t be known until a meeting on Wednesday.

The military factors prominently during many events at the Speedway and throughout the 500 Festival. Ever since 9/11, fans have grown accustomed to saluting service members as they march down pit lane.

“That’s something that’s become a tradition and we hope that we can continue,” Boles said. “A lot of that isn’t so much an expense for the military really, we provide them tickets, we help get them here, so we’re hoping that that won’t be impacted.”

Boles says it’s more likely to impact festivities planned for Military Appreciation Day that take place during bump day qualifying. For example, last year the National Guard brought in helicopters for public viewing.

“We believe that we’re still going to have some military component that’s on display here that weekend, but it just may not be helicopters,” Boles said.

Though the extent of the cutbacks remain unknown, Boles says nothing will keep race fans from paying tribute.

“I mean it’s Memorial Day weekend and with the exception of starting the green flag and running those 500 miles, the most important thing for us is celebrating the service men and women of this country, both past and present,” Boles said. “That’s still going to be the theme that you feel when you come here on race day. I mean, we get to race on Memorial Day Sunday because of the sacrifices of our military.”

NOBLESVILLE – Frank Violi is the president and owner of Butterfield Foods in Noblesville. He produces food in bulk then packs it and ships it to restaurants and supermarkets.

“We make soups, sauces, side dishes, cooked protein and salads,” said Violi.

If he’s making a product with meat that will be shipped across state lines, a USDA food inspector must be on site to supervise the production.

“But they also inspect your paperwork to make sure we’re complying with all food safety regulations that the government has plus all of the programs we have written up to demonstrate we’re in compliance with the government,” Violi said.

But there’s a problem looming. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says it has to cut$ 2 billion from its budget because of the federal sequester. To do that, it would have furlough USDA food inspectors—a move that could affect the food supply.

“What I’m concerned about is what would happen to the packing plants that send us the beef that we buy because they’re USDA inspected facilities as well,” said Violi, who wonders about a food disruption along the food chain.

“This is pretty ridiculous because the way the laws are written we can’t operate and produce meat to ship across state lines unless we have USDA food safety personnel on site and if the government is not going to allow them to do their job, we can’t comply with the law which means we’re shut down which is pretty ridiculous,” Violi said.

That could mean higher prices for consumers. Violi hopes it doesn’t come to that and Congress makes a deal.

“Exactly, just work it out,” said Violi.

A popular tourist spot in the nation’s capital is now closed to the public thanks to the sequester.

The White House Visitor Center’s hotline said tours of the White House will be cancelled beginning Saturday.

This could create problems for lawmakers as requests for tours are made through members of Congress.

The White House said the tours will not be rescheduled and the freeze will be in effect “until further notice.”

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