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US Cities Brace for Mandatory Government Spending Cuts

  • Chris Simkins

U.S. lawmakers approved a new spending measure to prevent a government shutdown later this month. It will fund the government through September 30. But the legislation locks in place $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts to domestic and defense programs. The automatic budget reductions, known as the "sequester," are hitting every federal government agency, with many employees being forced to take days of unpaid leave and government contractors being laid off.

Air traffic controllers at the Frederick, Maryland, municipal airport guide pilots around the busy airspace. But, under the spending cuts known as sequestration, this control tower, like many at smaller airports, is slated to close. Mamie Ambrose has been an air traffic controller for 11 years. She's among seven government contractors who would lose their jobs.

" We are armed service medal veterans, and now we are getting thrown out on the street for political gain and games. That's what it means. It also means no income and being in the unemployment line with so many others," Ambrose said.

More than 20 percent of Frederick's residents are directly or indirectly employed by the federal government. Its largest employer is the Army's Fort Detrick, a biomedical research facility with nearly 10,000 workers. Frederick and nearby areas are nervously awaiting the effects of cuts in government spending.

Frederick Mayor Randy McClement and a volunteer deliver hot meals to low-income seniors. The mayor worries federal cuts that cause job losses and salary reductions could indirectly harm charity organizations that help needy residents.

"If the people who help volunteer for meals-on-wheels for the elderly are now more concerned about trying to find jobs or supplement the days lost by going out and getting a part time job they won't have the ability to volunteer for services like this," McClement said.

The mayor says nobody has a clear idea of the full impact, but he says job losses and salary reductions will affect some Frederick residents.

"They live in our town, they shop in our town, they do their daily business in our town. Well, if they have one less day of pay per week, then we are going to start seeing a decrease in those services being utilized, That's how we believe the outcome is going to hurt our municipality," McClement said.

Richard Griffin, the city's economic development director, says the good news for this city of 65,000 is its improving economy plus 1.5 million people who visit annually.

"We are a diverse economy, and we also have a very strong visitor and tourism sector of our economy here. Our hope is that the furloughs and any layoffs that we might see from contractors or the federal side itself would be offset a little bit," Griffin said.

Some local businessmen, like jeweler Jeff Hurwitz, say the government spending cuts will not harm long-term consumer spending.

"I don't believe it is going to affect things because people will see how minor it is. And it won't be an issue," Hurwitz said.

Frederick was recently given an award as a comeback city, one of a few places across the country that has been able to bounce back well from the recent recession. The people here say, despite sequestration, this community will again be able to come back strong.