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Local agencies still await sequester effects
Meanwhile, Congress members hope to reverse the across-the-board cuts
The sequester could cause the Crook County Health Department to lose funding for its WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) nutrition program.
March 14, 2013
A recent Office of Management and Budget report said that Congress voted for the threat of sequestration to force them to act on deficit reduction.
“The specter of harmful across-the-board cuts to defense and nondefense programs was intended to drive both sides to compromise,” they stated. “The sequestration itself was never intended to be implemented.”
Nevertheless, on March 1, the sequester was triggered, and now programs for multiple agencies throughout the United States face $84 billion worth of cuts.
While many federal agencies anticipate some significant changes to their programs, the effects on local government programs remain less certain, and could be less severe.
For example, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack anticipates a reduction of 600,000 WIC clients, but Crook County Health Department Director Muriel DeLaVergne-Brown is still waiting to find out how the sequester will affect local funding.
“We don’t have any final numbers,” she said. “One of the things that we are doing right now is as I am creating the budget, I am taking into consideration that there could be a small cut . . . I think we just kind of have to keep an eye out and watch what’s happening and we may have to adjust based on that.”
Likewise, the Crook County School District still awaits specific answers regarding its Title I funding.
“We haven’t heard very much,” said Curriculum Director Dennis Kostelecky. “But what we have heard is an estimate that 10 percent of the Title I funding will be eliminated.”
He added that they don’t expect the cut to occur until next school year and if it does, it could cause them to reduce up to two positions.
That account differs from the one given by Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, who said they will have to cut $725 million from Title I funding, which would put 10,000 teaching jobs at risk.
Meanwhile other cuts could make a deeper dent locally. As an example, the Department of the Interior anticipates an approximately $200 million in direct funding for Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT). Crook County receives about $300,000 a year and Judge Mike McCabe said the loss could hurt.
“The County has very few discretionary dollars,” he said, “and that is where PILT has really come in handy.”
Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior added that the public should prepare for reduced hours and services provided by 398 national parks, 561 refuges, and over 258 public land units.
It appears that each of Crook County’s representatives in Congress had hoped to avoid sequestration, but ran into opposition from fellow colleagues.
“It didn’t have to be this way,” said Andrew Malcolm, press secretary for Representative Greg Walden (R-Ore.). “Congressman Walden voted twice last year for bills passed by the House to replace the sequester with common sense spending solutions, and so far the Senate hasn’t passed a bill to replace it.”
Tom Towslee, Oregon State Communications Director for U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), called sequester “a Washington word for a really bad idea.”
“Congress is just ducking the problem,” Towslee continued. “Hopefully, this will be a wakeup call to get to work on the big issues.”
Wyden has introduced a bipartisan tax reform bill and has developed another policy to address Medicare, which he said is the fastest-growing program in the federal budget.
Courtney Warner-Crowell, spokesperson for Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) said that the sequester cuts “threaten our fragile economic recovery and harms our most vulnerable individuals.”
She added that Merkley recently supported a bill that would have “achieved the same deficit reduction as the sequester over the next year by cutting spending on egregious tax loopholes, winding down the war in Afghanistan, and implementing cuts agreed to in the bipartisan Senate farm bill last year.”
Like the legislation that Walden supported in the House, the bill was blocked and didn’t pass.
While federal agencies were able to identify what effect the sequester will have, local agencies have less information to work with at this point.
Going forward, federal lawmakers will try to put a stop to sequestration and find alternative solutions for dealing with the federal deficit. Walden intends to focus primarily on cutting wasteful spending.
As examples, Malcolm said that the Internal Revenue Service spends $4 million a year on its own television studio and the Environmental Protection Agency spends $100 million annually on grants for foreign countries.
“The federal government admitted in 2011 that it made $115 billion in improper payments,” he added. “Either they overpaid someone, or a payment went to someone it shouldn’t have.”
Meanwhile, Merkley and his fellow Senate Budget Committee members plan to unveil a 10-year budget to replace the sequester cuts.
“It will set a path for the future that makes key investments in education and infrastructure and makes targeted cuts to programs that we no longer need or could be more efficient,” Warner-Crowell said.