It's been just over a month since the automatic federal spending cuts -- better known as "sequestration" -- kicked in. In that time, most public discussion has focused on the whether or not the spending cuts will actually make a difference. After all, skeptics have argued, the cuts "only" account for 0.5 percent of GDP. Their effect will be minor, these pundits have claimed, slicing less than 7 percent from the Pentagon, 2 percent from Medicare, and so on.
On those rare occasions in the last month when sequestration had an immediately noticeable effect -- when the White House canceled tours, for example, or when the National Park Service closed campgrounds -- critics have argued that these cuts were largely enacted for PR value, and that the federal government, if it wished, could actually have avoided them.
But the cuts are expanding, and, to paraphrase MTV's The Real World, this is where they stop being polite and start getting real. That 2 percent Medicare cut, for example, started to have a major effect last week when, as The Washington Post's Sarah Kliff noted, cancer clinics across the country had to turn away patients because they could no longer afford to give them medicine.
The Medicare problem was caused by a shortsight over which portion of the program was being cut. Medications are usually covered under Medicare Part D, which wasn't affected by sequestration cuts. Unfortunately, however, the cancer meds in question must be administered by a doctor, which puts them under Part B -- which was affected by sequestration.
For many cancer patients, the Medicare problem can be dealt with by getting their medications at hospitals rather than at smaller clinics. In a larger context, however, the Medicare cancer problem is a canary in a mine, an early indication of some of the looming problems that are likely to develop if sequestration remains in effect.
So, how has sequestration affected you? Have any of your local services had to cut back on hours or have you faced a furlough from your job because of government budget cuts? Are your schools facing a loss of funding or will your vacation be cut short because a National Park won't be open for as many hours? Or are you not feeling any effects at all?
If you have a sequestration story -- or, on the other hand, if you think the fuss over federal budget cuts has been overblown -- drop me a line, either by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or in the comments section below.
Sequestration Stories: How Are Spending Cuts Affecting You?
If you have a child in public school, watch out: $406 million is scheduled to get axed from the Head Start budget, which means that 70,000 kids will be kicked out of the program. Another $840 million is going to get pulled out of special education programs, and the White House estimates that another 10,000 teachers' jobs will be put at risk.
If you're planning to fly anywhere, be sure to pack an extra paperback: The TSA's airport security budget will be cut by $323 million, which means that your already-long check-in line will get even longer. And, while we're at it, it looks like there will be about 10 percent fewer air traffic controllers on the job, which is sure to slow things down even more.
Remember the floods and hurricanes that have devastated large swathes of the country over the past few years? Remember all the complaints we heard (and made) about FEMA's sluggish response to those disasters? Well, get ready for more of the same: Sequestration is going to cut $375 million from FEMA's disaster relief budget.
If you like meat -- or any food, really -- now might be a good time to stock up. The food inspectors who make sure your ground beef isn't ground horse and your chicken isn't a petri dish of harmful bacteria are about to be furloughed. Even non-carnivores are facing bad news: After a $206 million cut to its budget, the FDA will have to cut back on most of its food inspection programs.
Sequestration won't be bad news for everyone: If you're a criminal, it might be cause to celebrate. After all, with $355 million being cut from prison funding, convicts could be out on the street sooner than they expected. And, with $480 million being cut from the FBI's budget, if you've committed a crime recently, you might not need to worry as much about covering your tracks.
If you're a virus, things are looking up for you and your relatives, too. The National Institutes of Health are losing $1.6 billion and the Centers for Disease Control will say goodbye to $323 million. From research to public health programs, this will translate into a real downgrade to our nation's health care backbone.
Unfortunately, things won't be great if you want to take a vacation: With $110 million being cut from the National Park Service budget, many park services will be cut back or closed. In other words, if you're one of the 250,000 people who were planning to visit the Grand Canyon this year, you should prepare for a delayed opening and reduced options.
While not all federal student aid programs will take a hit in 2013, sequestration is on track to make things tough for low-income college students. The Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant program, which can give a needy student up to $4,000 a year, will likely be cut by 8.2 percent, as will federal work study programs. And for students who want to borrow money, student loan origination fees will also go up.
Here's a silver lining to sequestration: It will be educational. For years, this nation has been in the midst of an argument about what role the federal government has and should have in our daily lives. For anyone who has wondered what the government really does for them, the next few months will be an outstanding lesson in where, exactly, your tax money goes.