What Will Sequestration Actually Do?

Sequestration is a series of federal budget cuts.

ByABC News
March 4, 2013, 11:57 AM

March 4, 2013— -- Sequester is a popular - or not so popular, really - word in Washington, D.C. right now. But what is it, and why does it matter?

Sequestration is a big word for a series of automatic federal budget cuts that were agreed upon by Congress and the White House way back during the 2011 debt limit debate. They were intended to avert a debt-ceiling crisis, and few at the time thought they would ever actually take effect. The cuts will total about $85 million over the next seven months. While they are across the board cuts that will affect everything from defense spending to disability services, they won't immediately hit all programs. Some programs specifically designed to help the nation's most vulnerable will be spared, including Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program.

"We're not going to shut down the government," House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) said during a meeting last week with reporters. "Sequestration doesn't do that."

It does, however, place some very real restrictions on what federal entities are able to do. Here's what to expect:

1. Social Security Checks

People will still receive their Social Security checks, but the number of federal workers processing them will be limited, so it may take longer for the checks to arrive. According to Hoyer, a "slowdown" in delivery of checks will be one of the first noticeable impacts. People who call the Social Security Administration may also face longer waits on the line and processing times may increase.

Latinos may be hit especially hard. According to Latino advocacy organization League of United Latin American Citizens, "Because a large number of Hispanics tend to have lower wages and less pension coverage, over three-quarters of Latinos rely on Social Security for at least half of their income. Approximately 45 percent rely on Social Security for 90 percent or more of their income, while about 38 percent rely on it for all of their income."

2. Food Testing

The number of food safety inspections could decrease. The Food and Drug Administration is set to reduce the number of food inspections, which will directly counter implementation of a new law designed to increase the number of inspections, according to CBS. Meat inspections will be particularly affected. The Agriculture Department handles the inspection of meat packing plants, and inspectors must be present for the plants to operate. Inspectors may be furloughed or expected to handle more plants than normal, meaning the department may not always be able to have workers at each plant. When the workers are gone, the plants will have to shut down.

3. Housing Vouchers

Programs that provide vouchers for housing to poor families will be hit. As the New York Times reported, that could leave about 125,000 people at risk of becoming homeless. Other programs that provide temporary shelter and housing assistance to homeless people will also be limited, meaning people who are currently homeless may end up back on the streets.

4. Job Training Programs

Federal job training programs could see hundreds of millions of dollars in budget cuts. The training programs are designed to teach the unemployed skills that will help them find jobs. Minorities are especially likely to be impacted by the cuts. The Hispanic unemployment rate is close to 10 percent--well above the national average--and many Latinos rely on the programs to learn valuable job skills. Long-term unemployment benefits could also be slashed.

5. Head Start