As most congressional lawmakers spend Easter recess hosting town halls and fundraising, Rep. Matthew Cartwright (D-Pa.) plans to highlight the impact of sequestration at a protest rally in his district on Wednesday.
It's been nearly a month since President Barack Obama signed an order into law to begin the federal budget cuts known as sequestration, but there's been little discussion in Washington of how, exactly, the cuts are taking their toll across the country. Cartwright told The Huffington Post he wants to "put a face" to the damage. In his 17th District of Pennsylvania and its neighboring areas, that damage has spread to industrial trades and electronics contract workers and children losing Head Start services.
At the center of his district's outrage is a series of layoffs and furloughs at the Tobyhanna Army Depot, a maintenance facility operating under the Department of Defense that is pivotal to employment in Monroe County. The facility, chosen by President George W. Bush for his 2005 Veterans Day address, recently announced 418 layoffs. Approximately 4,300 furloughs are expected to follow, a spokeswoman told HuffPost, as a consequence of the depot's 35 percent budget cut -- amounting to roughly $309 million -- through the end of the fiscal year 2013.
"When you have the biggest employer cutting people's income by 20 percent, that's going to be a shockwave throughout the community, and it's not right," Cartwright said. "These people still have to pay their mortgages, they still have to fill up their gas tanks, they still have to repair their cars, they still have to try to pay their bills."
Cartwright said the protest rally will serve to educate the public on the effects of sequestration, and will include state legislators, as well as representatives from the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.
The impacts, he added, extend beyond government employees and local workers. Like in many states, the cuts threaten Pennsylvania's Head Start programs.
A spokesman for the state's Head Start chapter confirmed that rural and suburban counties stand to lose two to four classrooms each, affecting 40 to 85 children per program. Others are closing four weeks early, because administrators already spent the money they thought they would have for the remainder of the fiscal year.
The White House projected that 70,000 less children nationwide will receive Head Start services due to sequestration.
"By its own terms, it affects just a small percentage of the American public," Cartwright said. "So if it's not you or someone on your block or your brother-in-law, then it's 'I'm alright Jack, I'm not worried about it.'"
"That's our fault -- yours and mine for not putting a face on the sequester," he added. "But there are people who are really suffering."