Due to sequester, HUD and EPA to implement agency-wide furloughs

U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan testifies during a hearing before Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee March 20, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan testifies during a hearing before Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs...

The Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Environmental Protection Agency are going to shut their doors entirely over the course of several days this spring and summer as a result of sequestration. For seven non-consecutive days total, nearly all of  HUD''s staff will be furloughed and the entire department will be officially closed. The EPA is expected to implement a similar policy for about three non-consecutive days.

"There's only nine people who would be exempt from the furlough, and those are Senate confirmed appointees," said Eddie Eitches, president of AFGE Council 222, which represents HUD employees.

In addition to the agency-wide furlough days, EPA employees can also expect 10 additional furlough days that will not be implemented on a simultaneous, agency-wide basis. According to a Memorandum of Understanding [PDF] between HUD and Council 222, "HUD shall take all reasonable steps" to ensure that HUD employees are furloughed for only 56 hours, or seven work days.

Eitches called the Memorandum "a very progressive document" for minimizing furlough days and preserving HUD employee benefits. However, he also said that the effect of indiscriminate cuts on HUD programs would be devastating, especially because the agency does not have the authority to determine how those cuts would be implemented.

"Sequestration doesn't distinguish," he said. "It doesn't give us the opportunity to say, okay, we're going to protect the population that may become homeless as a result of sequestration. We're going to allocate money to make sure people don't become homeless." Instead, all programs are affected equally, with no room for discretion.

As a result, the HUD programs to be affected include programs to help those who are at risk of becoming homeless, relief for Hurricane Sandy victims, and assistance to people afflicted with AIDS.

Sequestration will result in, "more than 100,000 homeless and formerly homeless people, the majority of whom are families, disabled adults or veterans, being removed from their current house or emergency sheltered programs, putting them at substantial risk of returning to the streets," according to testimony [PDF] given by HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan in mid-February.

In the EPA, sequestration will cause sharp cuts to federal grants for state-level environmental protections. The White House has estimated that states could lose as much as $154 million in environmental funding.