These cuts — known as the sequester — are the result of the inability of Congress and the White House to agree on a plan to reduce the federal deficit. The idea was that the prospect of cutting all government budgets would be so distasteful to both parties that lawmakers would be forced to compromise. But with negotiations still at an impasse, the cuts were instituted and now the effects are starting to trickle down.
Here are six ways you may be affected.
1. Social Security
Your benefits won't be cut, but the Social Security Administration, already short-staffed, will lose 3,400 workers. That may mean longer waits for office visits, telephone assistance and benefits decisions, added frustration and, sometimes, tempers that veer out of control.
Since 2011, threats against SSA employees have increased nearly 20 percent. "These service issues have created unfortunate and potentially dangerous consequences," Carolyn W. Colvin, the acting Social Security commissioner, told Congress this year.
The short staffing also will mean a backlog of 140,000 disability claims, adding two weeks to the wait on initial claims and an extra month for a hearing decision.
2. Meals on Wheels
Meals programs for older people are just starting to feel the cuts, which filter down to them through state and local agencies. Debra Furtado, the CEO of Atlanta-based Senior Connections, which delivers 3,000 meals a day, is trying to figure out how to pare 40 clients, and she's already got hundreds on the waiting list. "There are some people who are not going to have food," Furtado says.
Meals on Wheels programs from coast to coast face similar pressures. And Furtado worries the sequester will force some senior centers to close one day a week, leaving many older Americans without the lunches, nutrition counseling and companionship they look forward to.
3. Emergency Preparedness
Weather forecasters who work for the federal government will be furloughed just as the hurricane season is heating up. Employees of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, for example, will each be furloughed four days between now and the end of September. Eric Christensen, a National Hurricane Center meteorologist and representative for the National Weather Service Employees Organization, pointed out that the furloughs come on top of a hiring freeze and that the center's computer-support team is already missing nearly half of its staff. "Without them," Christensen says, "our eyes and ears are diminished."
As Hurricane Sandy showed, weather forecasts are a critical element in warning the public to get out of the way of storms and help emergency planners get supplies and equipment in place before major weather events such as hurricanes.