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Nearly 100 federal employees took to the pavement outside Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia on Wednesday to protest against the federal budget cuts known as sequestration.
The rally, one of around 100 that took place across the country, was part of a National Day of Protest organized by the American Federation of Government Employees. AFGE is the largest federal employee union, representing 670,000 workers.
“There is a budget problem in the United States but the federal worker did not create the budget problem,” said Richard Gennetti, AFGE District 3 national representative. “The budget problem was created by government decisions, by our national government that spent a tremendous amount of money.”
In the shadow of Independence Hall, over the backdrop of punk band Dropkick Murphys’ “Worker’s Song,” the employees repeatedly chanted “no cuts.” Representatives from various federal agency offices in Philadelphia spoke about the impact of the sequester on everything from social services to tourism.
“What does this mean to the communities?” asked AFGE Housing and Urban Development Local 2032 President James Flynn. He outlined the roughly $950 million in cuts nationwide that he said threaten the Housing Choice Voucher Program, a program that provides assistance to low-income individuals, families, senior citizens and people with disabilities.
“What that means is approximately 125,000 of these individuals and families will not get the funding, possibly putting them at risk of homelessness,” Flynn said, again referring to numbers for the whole country. “I think that’s a clear case example of the long term cost of this sequestration does not merit the short term gains of this sequestration.”
The cuts are also shortening the opening days and hours of about eight National Park Service sites in the city, said Adam Duncan, vice president of AFGE Local 2058. The buildings affected include the Declaration House, which is where Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, and the Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial, the smallest National Park in the entire system.
Duncan said the loss of evening hours will have a significant impact on visitor numbers.
“It’s going to hurt big time because a lot of visitors, they come late, especially on the 4th of July. They expect services from the federal government, from the National Park Service and our employees here,” Duncan explained. “At 5 o’clock we’re closing the doors. We don’t have the staff, we don’t have the budget.”
The impact of the across-the-board reductions has become a political football. Critics argue their size and effects are being exaggerated, while President Obama counters that there is real pain involved.
Some protesters said they were already feeling the impact of the cuts. Elizabeth Lassiter lost her job as canvass director for Action United last year. She said her unemployment benefits have been reduced 10 percent as a result of sequestration.
“I’m also caring for my grandson. He’s in a Head Start program, which is also part of these sequester cuts. So we don’t even know how that’s going to take effect and if he’s going to be able to go next year, or if there will be less hours,” she added. “And if it is then again I won’t be able to find a job to be able to provide for my family.”
This article also appears on GIMBY.org, a public interest blog focused on the federal government and its activities outside of Washington, D.C. AxisPhilly is partnering with GIMBY to produce its first regional blog about the impact of the federal government in Philadelphia.