By Representative Yarmuth
Sharron Hilbrecht recently wrote to the C-J outraged that her husband, who works full-time for the Kentucky National Guard, had just received notice that mandatory furloughs will reduce their household income by 20 percent this year. I share her outrage.
The furloughs are the result of sequestration, the indiscriminate cuts to nearly all federal discretionary spending devised by Congressional leaders as a way to force negotiations on deficit reduction. The cuts were intended to be so egregious that Congress would be forced to work together to stop them. Sequestration was a threat, and I voted against it. It was never supposed to be policy, but now it is.
The Hilbrecht family and 460 Kentucky National Guard Military Technicians are not alone. More than 5,000 civilian employees at Fort Knox are facing 22 days of furlough over the next six months because of sequestration. Some are my constituents, and I have heard from them and their families.
I have talked with a Jefferson County principal forced to lay off special-education teachers because of sequestration. I have heard from an air-traffic controller who will lose his job when Owensboro's airport closes next month (Paducah's will also close). And UPS is concerned that the closure of 149 airport control towers across the country will impact operations and disrupt shipments for thousands of its customers.
I have met with local nonprofit social-service organizations who are rightfully worried that sequestration will eliminate entire federal grant programs, jeopardizing jobs and essential services for Louisville families. And I have heard from officials at the University of Louisville, a top employer in our community, who are worried that cuts to their research will interrupt life-saving medical advancements.
Instead of punishing Members of Congress who failed to compromise, sequestration is hurting American families like the Hilbrechts. Instead of trying to undo the damage, some Members of Congress are now taking credit for it. And instead of stopping there, the House approved a budget last week that cuts far deeper.
When 5,000 civilian Fort Knox employees lose a fifth of their income and Congress's response is to cut even more, we need an intervention. To address one crisis by creating another is madness. I hope the Hilbrechts' letter is the first of many. These massive cuts are as irresponsible as the Members who support them. I'm sorry to say that if Congress does not get its priorities in check, the Hilbrechts will not be the last Louisville family to feel the pain of this austerity.