Sequestration - that's the five-dollar word for the across-the-board budget cuts looming in the near future - sounds pretty arcane and abstract. But if the automatic cuts go into effect at the beginning of the year, many older Americans could feel them quite tangibly - when they go to the Social Security office, turn on the heat or hear their stomachs rumble.
When Democrats and Republicans couldn't agree on a deficit-reduction package last year, they tied their own hands. They agreed to cuts in defense and domestic programs that will go into effect automatically if they haven't found another way to deal with the deficit problem. Now they're scrambling to find that way.
Social Security and Medicare benefits are protected. But the Social Security Administration will have less money to pay its administrative expenses. The result: disability-claim processing could jump to a six-month wait. (This from a July 2012 report on the likely impact of sequestration by Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa.) What's more, as the result previous budget cutbacks, Social Security offices will close on Wednesdays at noon, beginning in January.
Other programs also will be cut. "Most of these programs don't have enough money to serve the people they have currently," says David Center, AARP's federal affairs director.
The cuts, which would come a fourth of the way into the government's fiscal year, could total 12 percent. Here are some of the impacts, according to a Senate Appropriations subcommittee:
- Senior centers and programs like Meals on Wheels would have 17 million fewer meals for the elderly
- 1.6 million fewer workers will get job training and employment services
- States will lose some of the money they use to conduct health inspections of nursing homes, hospitals and transplant centers
- $271 million would be cut from aid to moderate-income families - nearly 40 percent of which include someone aged 60 or older - for heating and cooling costs
And there may be more that no one envisions right now because, as the saying goes, the devil is in the details.