What happens if the cuts happen? White House outlines impact on Ohio, locals still unsure

Arian Smedley

Earlier this week, the White House outlined the impact on Ohio if Congress fails to come up with a plan to reduce the national debt by March 1 and a series of automatic cuts — called the sequester — take effect. Locally, officials are not sure what the potential impacts may be.

The Office of Management and Budget calculates that sequestration will require an annual reduction of around five percent for non-defense programs and around 8 percent for defense programs. But because of the delay in figuring this out, the government has just seven months to achieve these cuts, instead of 12. This means the reductions could be as large as 9 percent for non-defense and 13 percent for defense, according to the White House.

The Budget Control Act of 2011 states Congress must produce a bill that saves at least $1.2 trillion over 10 years. If not, automatic spending reductions (called sequestration) take effect. The cuts were initially going to happen in December but were delayed. The new deadline, March 1, is fast approaching without much indication of a plan.

According to Erik Zemljic, economics instructor at Kent State University, the university would likely feel little impact from sequestration immediately.

“[Because] the potential budget cuts have been looming for some time, prior long-term planning at the university, college, and department levels might have already been affected by the mere possibility of across-the-board federal spending cuts,” Zemljic said. “If no action is taken to delay scheduled cuts, we will likely not likely see any drastic changes in the near-term. In general, most effects will be felt at the long-term planning level.”

If the cuts go through, the university will most likely be affected by a decrease in research funding. The research conducted by many faculty members at the university is funded through grants from federal agencies such as the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health and Department of Energy, Zemljic said.

Pell grants are exempt from the budget cuts, but student loan organization fees may increase, Zemljic said.

The cuts would also impact federal work study programs. Around 1,450 fewer students would get work-study jobs that help them pay for college.

During the 2011-2012 school year, 775 students at Ohio University were employed through Federal Work Study, earning over $1 million. At Hocking College, 130 students were employed in the same year, earning close to $240,000.

How much this will impact organizations and agencies on the local level is still unclear, leaving many confused and concerned.

“How Sequestration will affect our organization remains to be seen,” Mark Frisone, executive director for Family and Community Services, Inc. said. “With well over 60 percent of our 20 million dollar budget coming from federal sources, we are monitoring the situation closely.”

Family and Community Services receives funding from dozens of federal programs, all of which are at serious risk of being cut, Frisone said.

“We’ve received no direct guidance from our financial sources, but we are going to initiate a hiring freeze,” Frisone said. “Especially those in programs that are grant funded.”

The federal Stop Violence Against Women Program also faces possible cuts. The state’s programs could lose up to $245,000. My Sister’s Place, which provides support to domestic violence victims, receives about $50,000 and employs three part-time counselors with these funds.

Child vaccination programs may see a reduction of about $344,000, which could result in around 5,040 fewer children receiving vaccines for diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, whooping cough, influenza and Hepatitis B.

The Athens City-County Health Department receives federal money for its child immunization programs, which targets those who are uninsured or underinsured, although Administrator Chuck Hammer didn’t have figures immediately available. The department also receives $90,000 for emergency preparedness and $76,000 for cardiovascular health and creating healthy communities projects, all of which face possible cuts, too.

Hammer doesn’t expect the federal government to cut the child immunization programs, stating it’s a high priority. Cuts in other areas, he said, will be manageable.

“We will prioritize our public health activities in the face of any actual funding cuts, and make adjustments,” Hammer said. “The health department is committed to providing quality public health services to Athens County, and the sequestration rollout as approved by the congress and president will not prevent us from continuing those services.”

Local law enforcement programs also face possible cuts. Ohio could lose about $455,000 in Justice Assistance Grants that support law enforcement, prosecution and courts, crime prevention and education, corrections and community corrections, drug treatment and enforcement, and crime victim and witness initiatives.

About $100,000 in federal grants help fund the local victims assistance program, according to County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn. The program pays the salaries of three employees and provides transportation for witnesses and victims.

“It’s an important program to assist people through difficult times, sometimes involving violent sexual assault,” Blackburn said. “Having someone act as an advocate on their behalf and explain the process to them is very important and a necessity. Hopefully, if we lose funding, the county commissioners will want to keep these people employed.”

?Arian Smedley Messenger staff journalist,writer

Daily Kent Stater city reporter Michael Jermann contributed to this story. Contact him at [email protected].