Agencies in El Paso dreading sequestration


POSTED: Friday, February 22, 2013 - 11:17pm

UPDATED: Saturday, February 23, 2013 - 5:33pm

In just one week, drastic federal spending cuts known as “sequestration,” could leave countless Americans without a job.

How drastic are these automatic cuts? If Congress and President Obama can’t reach a deal by the March 1st deadline, the government will cut $85 billion dollars from its budget. That means, nearly 800,000 workers would be forced to take one day of unpaid leave per week, and those families would see a 20% cut in their paychecks.

Defense cuts will make up half of the $85 billion dollar sequester. The Department of Homeland Security and all its various sectors will be on the fiscal chopping block. Border Patrol agents, for example, will lose all over-time pay, and most agents, will see an overall pay cut of 40%.

In a statement released in response to these cuts, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano said, “If allowed to occur, sequestration would be disruptive and destructive to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), its missions, and our Nation’s security and economy.”

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta seems to agree, and said, “… there is no mistaking that the rigid nature of the cuts forced upon this department, and their scale, will result in a serious erosion of readiness across the force.”

Today, Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood warned the cuts will also impact air travel – 47,000 Federal Aviation employees would face furloughs, meaning fewer air traffic controllers in the towers and more delays for travelers.

Passengers at El Paso International Airport are dreading the threat.

“Well, it’s always a constant concern for me because I travel 48 weeks out of the year. And the reality is that it causes a lot of down time in production,” said Shawn Jorgensen.

“I think it’s just something that is going to add stress to everything,” said Leigh Garcia.

Federally-funded agencies in El Paso are no exception to the looming cuts. Early childhood education programs, like the Region 19 Head Start curriculum could lose employees and turn needy families away – something the center’s Executive Director says is frightening.

“I realize that sequestration is here. And we are hopeful that our policymakers will make the right decisions. We will see what we can do to avoid massive cuts to our children and our staff,” said Dr. Blanca Enriquez.

The Housing Authority of the City of El Paso would need to cut employee salaries by 14%, and reduce the amount rent they pay to landlords. But the agency has already started looking for ways to save without turning families away.

“We’ve been looking at innovative things like maybe increasing the number of people of a bedroom, from one person in a bedroom to two people in a bedroom, just so that we’re not looking at removing 500 or 600 families from receiving assistance and not being able to have housing,” said Gerry Cichon.

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