Blunt proposes avoiding essential worker furloughs

MU has yet to feel the pinch of sequestration cuts.

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., introduced legislation this week to prevent “essential” federal employees from facing furloughs as a result of the March 1 sequestration.

Blunt unsuccessfully tried to have the bill added as an amendment to a continuing resolution that will fund the government through 2013. The bill would allow government agencies the flexibility to furlough some employees, but not those whose jobs involve “safety of human life or the protection of property, as determined by the head of the agency,” according to the bill’s text.

Blunt hopes the bill will help avoid furloughs for meat inspectors, air traffic controllers and border guards.

“The furlough notices are being made in a sweeping fashion,” Blunt said in his remarks on the Senate floor. “They’re threatening day-to-day services that protect life and safety. But every federal job does not protect life and safety."

Blunt criticized high government spending, saying across-the-board cuts could have been avoided with more fiscal responsibility.

“It doesn’t have to happen at all, but if it does happen there’s no reason that we should have to be curtailing essential services,” Blunt said.

Despite warnings from the White House about hefty cuts to Missouri’s funding, many agencies have yet to feel the squeeze of the sequester. MU’s research department expects to face grant reductions but are still waiting for anything to take effect.

“I don’t think anything has changed,” said Gloria Smith, MU Office of Research office manager. “Right now we’re still in that hurry up, we’ll-wait-and-see mode.”

The sequester could cost MU programs $16.7 million, most of which would come from reductions in research grants from federal agencies, according to the MU Graduate Professional Council.

Although it appeared tuition assistance for veterans would be on the chopping block, Congress voted to extend the benefits in late March. Under the sequester’s original proposals, veterans continuing their studies would continue to receive assistance, but new applicants would not receive the aid. In many states, children of veterans also qualify for aid.

The Columbia Regional Airport air traffic control tower was also at risk of shutting down, although the Federal Aviation Administration announced April 5 that all towers scheduled for closure would remain open until June 15 as the FAA resolves legal challenges related to the closures. The FAA had planned to phase the closures, but will now stop funding all 149 towers June 15.

“Safety is our top priority. We will use this additional time to make sure communities and pilots understand the changes at their local airports,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a news release.

Blunt expressed concern over plans to furlough meat inspectors, saying 146 meat and poultry plants could be affected by the sequester.

“It’s estimated that these food inspector furloughs would lead to the closure of nearly 6,300 facilities across America on the day the meat inspector doesn’t show up,” Blunt said. “In the facilities that are supervised by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the inspector has to be there every day, and every minute of every day for those workers in Missouri, or Wisconsin or Maryland or anywhere else to work.”

Columbia’s meat plants, including Show Me Farms and Crane’s Meat Processing, are under state inspection and are less likely to be affected by the furloughs.

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