(CNN) - Confused about those forced federal spending cuts which kicked in on Friday?
CNN’s Tom Foreman is answering questions about sequester on CNN and CNN.com.
Q: “If I try to apply for unemployment benefits on Monday, will anyone be there to take my call?”
- Ron Dailey via Facebook
TOM: This is a big question considering that unemployment remains a serious problem, and potentially thousands of people may lose jobs as the budget cuts settle in.
So where to begin? The short answer is, yes, someone will be there to take your call. Depending on how your state handles the sequester, probably nothing will change for at least a few days and possibly weeks.
We’ve spoken to several state labor departments and to paraphrase, the message from each was the same: No one has been notified of layoffs. We don’t really know how this is going to impact us, and we’re waiting on guidance from the federal government. We will have people ready to process new unemployment claims even if we wind up with fewer people assigned to that task and the wait gets a little longer. Maybe we’ll encourage people to use automated, computerized filing systems a bit more.
That said, eventually some effect is likely to occur. The federal government helps pay for the administration of state unemployment funds, so as the feds cut back that will mean less cash to handle that task.
On a related note, about 3.7 million people are currently on regular unemployment right now, and the National Employment Law Project says their benefits will not be affected. However, about two million people who are among the long term unemployed will see their checks reduced by about 11% around April if all goes as expected.
One more item: The Labor Department will also stop producing some reports tracking mass layoffs, green jobs, and how the U.S. job market compares with other countries.
Submit your questions now in the comments section below, via the CNNPolitics page on Facebook or by Twitter using the hashtag #AskTomCNN. Then check back on for answers.
Q: Does Congressional pay get cut??
TOM: We’ve had a lot of questions about whether or not members of Congress will join in the suffering as this budget pruning gets underway. Mathelm asks on Twitter, “Does Congressional pay get cut?" IN a somewhat more pointed fashion, Drefly tweets, “ How can the American people be assured that the salaries of Congress are cut 20%?”
The answers, in order, are “no” and “you can’t.” Sorry to break the news.
Even though members of Congress shoulder a great deal of the blame for the situation (or credit, depending on your political persuasion,) when it comes to this matter their hands are tied. Congressional pay is exempt from the sequester because the 27th Amendment says it must be. By law, changes in Congressional pay can take place only when the next Congress come in. The law was set up this way to keep members of Congress from giving themselves big pay hikes, but it also means no one in Congress can take a cut now, despite some saying they want to voluntarily do so.
Perhaps they can take the money and then donate to a cause, such as the federal government’s general fund (and yes, that is legal) but that is different than not getting paid in the first place.
Q: "Please give an example of a cut the sequester will cause in total dollars before cut and after cut."
- Birdman9 via Twitter
TOM: Many of our questions have come from people who are concerned about getting past the percentages to understand precisely how much is being cut in real dollars.
Since we’ve heard so much noise from the Transportation Department about possible delays for air travelers, let’s look at the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA budget is $15.9 billion dollars. Under the sequester, it gets hacked by $1 billion, leaving it at $14.9 billion dollars. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and his team say the results will be profound; few controllers available to handle the flow of planes, possible long delays during peak hours at big airports, and the shuttering of some towers at smaller airfields. Point of reference, though: $14.9 billion dollars is pretty much what the FAA budget was in 2008, when there were actually more people flying.
Q: High school art teacher…I’m screwed right?
- Knoxieblu via Twitter
TOM: The Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, stepped into an ant hill when he suggested a few days ago that teachers were already being laid off because of the budget cuts. Turns out that he had precious little evidence to back his claim and in the one school district he cited the story was a good bit more complicated than that. In any event, the talk of tens of thousands of school employees getting pink slips has clearly rattled many parents.
Sean McGruder, on Facebook, weighed in. “Our local superintendent made this statement, ‘The loss of federal dollars through automatic cuts on Friday could have devastating effects on local education from head start to high school, taking money from programs that serve low-income students and those with disabilities.' Can you tell me if this is true?"
It is true, but only if you read that statement carefully. Many of the efforts to educate low-income students and those with disabilities are funded with federal dollars. Those dollars are subject to the sequester, and when those cuts hit the neighborhood level, yes, children may well suffer. But it would be easy for any parent to make a leap from that superintendent’s statement and assume this means all teachers are at risk.
Knoxieblu tweeted that very concern. “High school art teacher…I’m screwed right?”
Not necessarily. Most schools get the vast bulk of their funding from state and local governments, not the feds. If your school district is struggling to pay its bills, that is the real threat to the teachers your kids know and love. Ripples from the sequester won’t help, but in all likelihood they would also not be the primary cause for teachers outside of the specialties mentioned above losing jobs.
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