4 Ways the Sequester Will Affect You (Including Leaking Nuclear Waste)


With the deadline of March 1 passing without a deal being reached between President Barack Obama and House Majority Leader John Boehner, the sequester has arrived. It has been talked in terms of a fixed budget cuts to both domestic and defense spending, but what will it really do? Here are four effects that may occur as a result of the sequester:

1. FDA inspectors go home and meat gets more expensive:

Photo Credit: Thomas Bjorkan

One of the major ways in which government agencies are preparing to deal with the decreased funding is to furlough employees in order to reduce staff cuts. For the Food and Drug Administration, this could have effects more pronounced than employees not receiving pay. Meat plants in the United States are required by law to have slaughtered animals examined post-mortem by an inspector in order to prevent unhealthy or unlawful practices. This is to prevent incidents such as the horse meat scandal in the United Kingdom, which saw burgers being sold that had up to one third of their mass being horse meat.

A furlough of these inspectors would disrupt the meat industry, forcing them to completely stop production on the furloughed days unless they wished to break the law. The FDA is attempting to find to a way to prevent this from happening through numerous means, including asking the industry to pay some user fees. However, this was rejected by the industry in the past.

If the furloughs go through this could mean less meat on the shelves and higher meat prices for the meat that does make it to the shelves.

2. Less funds for women and children on WIC and a drop in the number participating:

Photo Credit: Karen Apricot

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, commonly known as WIC, has not been exempted from the sequester cuts, unlike other social services such as Social Security and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). WIC provides a voucher for women who are pregnant or have small children for a number of foodstuffs such as milk and peanut butter. The voucher is not cash and can only be used on these products.

The program will be forced to cut around $543 million from their budgets. The opinion of such a cuts is mixed; the White House claims that 600,000 may be dropped from the program. Representative Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) claims that the cuts will not result in anyone dropped from the program. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities disagrees with their analysis having an estimated drop of 700,000 women and children.

3. Delays in the cleanup of nuclear waste:

Photo Credit: Energy.gov

Energy Secretary Steven Chu has stated that the effects of budget cuts at the Department of Energy could disrupt numerous functions it carries out. The DOE is responsible for dealing with nuclear waste around the country, including high-risk sites. The budget cuts mandated by the sequester could see work delayed on nuclear waste cleanup.

The site that most are speculating could be heavily affected is the Hanford Site in Washington state, a decommissioned nuclear production complex built on the Columbia River that produced the plutonium used in Fat Boy, the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan during World War II. In particular, six tanks are leaking radioactive waste from the site's previous activities. A spokesperson for the DOE confirmed that overall cleanup efforts would be curtailed, but did not specify if work on the tanks would be delayed. Other sites that may be affected include the Idaho National Laboratory, Oak Ridge Reservation in Tennessee, and Savannah River Site in South Carolina.

4. Longer wait times at the airport for spring and summer travel:

Photo Credit: Public Radio

The Transport Security Administration would be forced to make cuts under the sequester as well. In testimony to the House Committee on Appropriations' Subcommittee on Homeland Security, John S. Pitole stated that part of the TSA's plan for the sequester would be the elimination of overtime. The TSA utilizes overtime in order to prevent wait times during busy travel seasons such as spring break, Memorial Day, and the general increase over summer. Deprived of this tool and obviously being unable to hire more staff, travelers could see their wait times in security increase no matter where they travel in the country, though Pitole stated the agency would try to spread out the effects.