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    Friday, January 27, 2023

    We're finally getting it about sequestration

    Remember the dreaded fiscal cliff the U.S. economy was supposed to tumble off way back in January if Congress didn't approve a federal budget?

    Automatic, mandatory budget cuts would be so onerous no lawmaker in his right mind would dare risk imposing so-called sequestration. Congress feared this so desperately it voted to give itself another few months, until March 1, to come up with a prudent course of action.

    Meanwhile, warnings grew more urgent - the stock market would crash, banks would collapse, unemployment would soar and government offices would shut down. Certainly our elected representatives would not let that happen.

    Then, a curious situation developed: None of the dire predictions came true.

    And like the hapless villagers in the tale about the little boy who cried wolf, the public - and government officials - stopped worrying about the consequences of failing to heed warnings.

    Well, now the chickens are starting to come home to roost.

    Across the country and here in southeastern Connecticut, federal support for a variety of programs is drying up, workers are facing furloughs and people at last seem to be getting the message.

    Last week U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, met with about 100 Department of Defense civilian employees at the Naval Submarine Base in Groton who are facing shorter hours and smaller paychecks because of the federal sequestration.

    Among them was Adam Puccino, a mason at the base, who now plans to get food for his family at the United Way food bank.

    "A 5 percent pay cut, I could probably live through it. Ten, I'd struggle. But 20, now I'm not within my means," Puccino said. "What I pride myself on, I can't do. I can't take care of my wife and kids with a 20-percent pay cut."

    Rep. Courtney said while it is still possible to delay or mitigate some of the imposed reductions, the best solution is for Congress to finally agree on a budget that reduces the deficit.

    We agree. Enough dilly-dallying. Get to work, Congress - and that includes you, Rep. Courtney.

    The sequestration also means the Historic Ship Nautilus and Submarine Force Library and Museum will be closed on Mondays.

    The smaller paychecks and fewer tourists will affect merchants in Groton and throughout the region.

    Elsewhere, federal budget cuts to the agency that runs Head Start preschool programs throughout New London County have eliminated a home-based education program for children who needed extra help.

    Deborah Monahan, executive director of the Thames Valley Council for Community Action, which runs the Head Start program, said last week that sequestration cost the program $190,000. As a result, TVCCA eliminated the home-based program in which staff members visited 60 families of children aged 3 to 5 years old identified as needing direct one-on-one educational support before they entered a traditional classroom, Day Staff Writer Claire Bessette reported.

    The program served children with special needs, developmental difficulties or socialization issues. Their families received additional support with issues ranging from education, job assistance and health insurance to service referrals.

    Rep. Courtney said the loss of Head Start funds to the region will have long-term effects. We agree. Get to work.

    Meanwhile, across the country there were fewer patriotic displays and fireworks shows at military bases on July 4 because of sequestration's $85 billion in across-the-board spending reductions.

    While some bases canceled shows, others managed to keep them going with donations from the public and local businesses.

    These are the choices many of us must make now.

    While it may be enjoyable to watch a military jet fly over to help celebrate our nation's independence, most would agree it's better to spend the money on education and other such programs.

    Congress, get back to Washington. Pass the budget, agree on deficit reduction.

    Otherwise it will be a longer and hotter summer.

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