No laughing matter
In our view
Last week, Congress did what it does best: It put a Band-Aid on the sequester when a tourniquet was called for.
The continuing resolution approved by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama leaves in place $85 billion in automatic budget cuts, but eases the impact of some of those cuts.
For example, the deal worked out by congressional leaders and the White House added money to Customs and Border Protection and reduced furloughs for civilian workers at military posts. And, it returned nearly all of the money earmarked for food inspectors under the Department of Agriculture.
Just don't expect a get-out-of-sequestration card for other departments.
While some in Washington joke about the impact of sequestration, it's no laughing matter to growing segments of the population.
All told, it will affect an estimated 99,000 Pennsylvanians. More than 8,400 civilian workers at the Tobyhanna and Letterkenny army depots will be furloughed for nearly three weeks. Head Start programs may be forced to drop as many as 2,000 children, and public school districts may face more teacher layoffs. Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski, in a recent conference call, said that city's schools ultimately may be forced to cut 150 teaching positions. Pennsylvania also faces $40 million in biomedical research cuts from the National Insitututes of Health.
Locally, the impact also is beginning to be felt:
n This Sunday, Lancaster Airport will be one of 149 regional airports across the country -- including three in Pennsylvania -- to close its air traffic control tower. That means seven air traffic controllers will be furloughed.
n Lancaster General Health stands to lose $1.2 million from cutbacks to Medicare and up to $5 million if Medicare Advantage programs are included in the sequester cuts.
n The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development notified Lancaster city leaders that the city could lose $75,000 in Community Development Block Grants that are used for public works projects, ramp and curb replacement, police overtime and to cover the costs of housing and code enforcement inspectors. That comes on top of a 25 percent reduction two years ago.
n Although federal grants worth nearly $2.4 million to hire and retain Lancaster city firefighters and police are safe for this fiscal year, future funding for those programs is in jeopardy.
n And the unemployed will see their unemployment checks reduced by 10.7 percent.
Sequestration may be a joke inside the Beltway, but it's becoming a nightmare for many of us.
Lawmakers need to visit their schools, hospitals and military bases. They need to talk with city and county officials who are trying to patch holes in necessary programs. They need to stop playing political games with people's lives.