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Sequester Threatens Public Safety

February 19, 2013 – IAFF members from Fairfax, Prince George’s County and Washington, DC joined President Obama and other emergency responders for a White House press conference February 19 to address the danger of the looming sequestration to public safety.

The automatic across-the-board spending cuts – known as the sequester – will become effective March 1 if Congress doesn’t reach an agreement. The $85 billion in immediate cuts include reducing spending for communities to pay police and fire personnel and other emergency responders.

"People will lose their jobs," Obama said. “Emergency responders like the ones who are here today -- their ability to help communities respond to and recover from disasters – will be degraded.”

Obama is calling on Congress to take an equalized approach that combines tax reform with some additional spending reforms to avoid cuts that could hurt the economy, slow recovery and put people out of work.

“Fire departments across the country are already struggling to keep communities safe with fewer resources,” says IAFF General President Harold Schaitberger. If the sequester is not stopped, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) would need to eliminate funding for state and local grants that support fire fighter positions and state and local emergency management personnel, which will hamper the ability to respond to natural disasters, such as Super Storm Sandy and other emergencies.

Schaitberger adds, “This political fight over the sequester is already posing a danger to public safety , to say nothing of fire fighters who must also provide for their families.”

The deep cuts imposed by the sequester will also have potentially devastating effects on federal fire fighters throughout the Department of Defense. Federal fire fighters have endured years without pay raises, as well as cost shifting in both their health and pension programs. “A sequester poses the very real threat of layoffs and furloughs for our federal brothers and sisters," says Schaitberger.

“It’s wrong to ask the middle class to bear the full burden of deficit reduction,” said Obama, and urged Congress to “do the right thing” and reduce the deficit in a balanced, responsible way. “That’s what would do right by these first responders,” he said. “That’s what would do right by America’s middle class.”

The sequester was first set to take effect on January 1, but was postponed as part of the fiscal cliff negotiations to give lawmakers more time to work on a larger budget deal.

Over the last several years, both parties have worked together to reduce budget deficits by more than $2.5 trillion – more than halfway towards the goal of $4 trillion in deficit reduction. In 2011, Congress also passed a law stipulating that if both parties couldn’t agree on a plan to reach that $4 trillion goal, $1 trillion of additional, arbitrary budget cuts would begin to take effect this year.

Local members who appeared with the president during the press event include:

Washington, DC Local 36 members Rodney Bunn, Robert James Alvarado, Fredrick Matthew Gordon and Tiffany Farnace Burnett; Fairfax County, VA Local 2068 members Colin Desmond Flanigan, Clarke Vandevanter Slaymaker II, Brenton Moreau, Felicia Nakia Johnson and Emily Lorimer Murphy; and Prince George’s County, MD Local 1619 members Brandon Michael Goff, Michael Britten Jr., Kevin Robert Wittmer and Daryel Reginald Dunston.


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