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Is sequester affecting you?

By Kay Bell · Bankrate.com
Friday, March 8, 2013
Posted: 5 pm ET

Sequester has been in effect for a full week -- and the world hasn't stopped spinning. In fact, most of us haven't seen any changes in our lives.

That shows that President Barack Obama's dire warnings before the $85 billion in automatic spending cuts took effect March 1 were just political hype, say the White House's opponents.

Not so, counter those who are still concerned about the impending effects of sequestration. In preparation for the cuts, many agencies devised ways to delay as long as possible any actions necessitated by the cuts. The Internal Revenue Service, for example, is trying to get through filing season with as little disruption as possible, so the agency is delaying worker furloughs until after the April 15 tax return deadline.

But, say sequester worriers, the effects will be felt gradually as the cuts filter through the vast federal system.

The White House issued fact sheets for each state detailing what the cuts might mean to each jurisdiction. In addition, the Obama administration provided its preview of what sequestration means to the country as a whole:

How the sequester could impact you

Federal services targeted for sequester Projected cuts Potential results
Law enforcement Furloughs of more than 1,000 federal agents Limit efforts to fight financial crimes such as identity theft
U.S. Customs and Border Protection Reductions in customs and border patrol agent work hours equivalent to around 7,750 agency officers Peak wait times at nation's busiest airports and largest ports of entry could grow to four hours or more, especially during holiday weekends and prime travel periods.
The Transportation Security Administration, or TSA Hiring freeze and rotating furloughs of 50,000 airport security agents Reduced workforce would increase passenger wait times at airport security checkpoints.
Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA Reduction in federal funding for state and local grants that pay for firefighter positions and emergency personnel Depending on number and frequency of natural disasters, response and recovery efforts could be hampered.
Education Loss of funding for an estimated 10,000 teacher jobs, including 7,200 special education personnel, as well as reduction of Head Start programs Some of the cuts would be ameliorated by reduced school programs during summer, but year-round programs for special needs children would take a hit.
National parks Cuts expected at most of the country's 398 national parks, leading to partial or full closures and reduced maintenance In addition to affecting visitor access, businesses in the surrounding areas are likely to suffer as tourism declines.
Source: Office of Management and Budget (OMB)

A CBS News poll conducted as the sequester cuts were about to begin found that 53 percent of us expect to be personally affected by the cuts.

I have already heard from a few folks who have lost work or expect to because of the federal budget cuts. Others tell me they are worried that if sequester continues for months, the economic effects could be a painful second blow as they still struggle to cope with less income because of the return on Jan. 1 of the full 6.2 percent Social Security payroll tax taken out of their paychecks.

And another poll, this one from Gallup, finds that our confidence in the economy fell as sequester became a reality. Prior to sequester, said Gallup, U.S. economic confidence reached a five-year high. With sequester, Americans' confidence in economic recovery dropped to the low levels last seen in 2012 during the "fiscal cliff" debate.

Perception of our personal and the country's fiscal welfare plays a major role in keeping the economy moving forward. If we believe sequester will stall it, then it will stall to a degree as we quit spending in anticipation of the cuts' effects. So we actually already are feeling some sequester stings.

Maybe the recent meetings between the president and members of Congress on a grand bargain (yes, they're using that phrase again in Washington, D.C.) to deal with the federal deficit will lead to some changes that could lessen at least some of the sequestration effects.

But just in case, you might want to prepare for the long haul.

If your kid is looking forward to a summer school class, start thinking about a study alternative.

If your family vacation plans include camping at Yosemite National Park, look into other lodging options just in case some of 13 campgrounds are closed because of sequester.

And make sure to plan adequately, both financially and by buying storm supplies, for the upcoming spring tornado and summer hurricane seasons. If FEMA doesn't have as much money and we're hit by a lot of crazy and destructive weather, we could be left to fend longer for ourselves.

***

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You also can follow me on Twitter @taxtweet.

Veteran contributing editor Kay Bell is the author of the book "The Truth About Paying Fewer Taxes" and a co-author of the e-book "Future Millionaires' Guidebook."

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