EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

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February 26, 2013

Victim of budget cuts?

Massive cuts could hit fuel assistance, air-traffic controllers

Thousands could be put out of work or on unpaid furlough. Early education centers could see layoffs and forced reductions in student enrollments. People who rely on government assistance to pay for everything from baby formula to fuel oil could see their benefits stopped.

These are a few of the forced budget cuts that could start Friday if Congress and President Obama are unable to come to an agreement on what cuts to make to trim the federal deficit. The cuts, known as “sequestration,” call for 10 percent reductions in almost all government programs in the country as a way of paring back the $1 trillion deficit.

Locally, the cuts could mean a shutdown of the air-traffic control tower at Lawrence Municipal Airport, a cutoff of fuel assistance to hundreds of Merrimack Valley residents, layoffs of teachers and 10 percent reductions in everything from research to public safety.

“For us, it would mean we’d have to reduce our classrooms by 50 kids, and nine staff people would lose their jobs,” said Evelyn Friedman, director of Head Start on Essex Street in Lawrence. The early childhood education program, based at the Greater Lawrence Community Action Council, services 500 children and has about 75 employees.

Further, GLCAC administers fuel assistance for area residents. A 10 percent cut, Friedman said, translates into a $450,000 reduction in benefits to 760 customers, mostly in Lawrence and Methuen, but also in North Andover and Andover.

“That’s what I’m really worried about,” Friedman said. “People need that. If people have gas service, there is a moratorium on shut-offs until March 15. But if you have fuel delivered, they can you cut you off at any time if you don’t pay.”

She said fuel assistance typically goes to elderly and low-income families.

“It’s going to have a big, big impact,” she said. “This is a really bad time for that to be cut. Ever since the first snow this winter, people are clamoring for resources.”

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