Over the cliff
Sequester threatens to derail programs for the young, old, poor and sick
By André Coleman 03/07/2013
Automatic federal budget cuts — a byproduct of the sequestration of funds resulting from the inability of Democrats and Republicans to negotiate long-term spending reductions in December — could have severe impacts on the Pasadena Unified School District, the Pasadena Police Department, the city’s Health Department and other local, state and federal agencies.
“Sequestration is already damaging our economy as businesses change their hiring plans and the federal government plans its furloughs,” said Congressman Adam Schiff, D-Burbank.
“Left in place, the sequester could cost up to 750,000 jobs nationwide. In our region, everything from Head Start to research grants at local hospitals to [Jet Propulsion Laboratory] may be adversely affected,” Schiff said in an email statement to the Pasadena Weekly.
Originally passed as part of the Budget Control Act of 2011, also known as the debt ceiling compromise, the sequester was meant as an incentive for the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction to cut $1.5 trillion over 10 years, writes Washington Post blogger Dylan Matthews.
If a compromise between the White House and Congress is not reached, Schiff estimates California would lose approximately $87.6 million in funding for primary and secondary education, $12.4 million for environmental protection programs, $2.6 million in direct funding for public health, and another $12 million in public health grant funding.
Nationwide, Schiff said more than $1.6 billion would be cut from medical research grants provided through the National Institutes for Health. Community health centers around the country would have funding cut by $120 million, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would provide 540,000 fewer doses of vaccines against diseases like hepatitis, flu, measles and whooping cough for children and adults, the congressman wrote in the email. (Please see related story on page 10)
The $85.4 billion in total cuts would include elimination of the $406 million needed to serve 70,000 students enrolled in Head Start programs around the country, 8,200 of them in California. The local program would serve 1,100 low-income children from Pasadena, Altadena, Sierra Madre and South Pasadena when it’s operating.
At the local level, the Pasadena Unified School District could lose a $10.7 million grant it has applied for in order to open a Head Start program. The former Head Start closed in 2011 after the nonprofit group running 10 centers in Pasadena, Altadena and Glendale abruptly backed out of its contract.
“We don’t have the contract yet to run the program,” PUSD Board of Education President Renatta Cooper explained. “But the cuts definitely put [the grant] in jeopardy, and we know that pre-K education is important in achievement.”
Along with the nearly $88 million Schiff says California will lose for primary and secondary education, the Pasadena school board is already struggling to close an existing $8 million budget gap before a state-mandated May deadline.
“The cuts we have to deal with right now are bad enough. I am already upset,” Cooper told the Weekly. “Any additional cuts will add to the chaos.”
But that’s not the only local education program in jeopardy.
“The [Head Start] grant is the tip of the iceberg as to what we would be in danger of losing,” said PUSD Spokesman Adam Wolfson. “All of the federal funds we receive are in jeopardy.”
Some 16 programs will be affected, with a 5.9 percent total revenue reduction totaling $895,540, according to Wolfson.
“The biggest programs that will be reduced include Title I [funds for disadvantaged students], Title II [money for teacher training and recruitment], and IDEA [Individuals with Disabilities Education ACT] funds,” Wolfson said.
While the district was gearing up for what could be debilitating cuts to programs for young, poor and learning disabled youngsters, officials at City Hall were not yet sure how the reductions would impact the Pasadena Public Health Department and other city-run programs.
Along with everything else, California would also lose about $2.6 million in emergency funds, which would be used during a natural disaster, like the 2011 windstorm, which caused $17 million in damage. California would also lose an additional $12.4 million in grants to help combat substance abuse, resulting in around 9,400 fewer admissions to recovery programs, according to Schiff. In addition, the California Department of Health Services would lose about $2 million, which could mean 50,000 fewer HIV tests, Schiff wrote.
Pasadena Public Health Director Eric Walsh did not return phone calls. According to City Public Information Officer William Boyer, officials are keeping a close eye on the situation. However, Boyer said, “It is too soon to say what impacts, if any, will be felt in Pasadena.”
Police officials said sequester-related cuts could impact the city’s Youth Accountability Board, which operates on a $100,000 grant from the US Department of Justice. The program aims to rehabilitate youthful offenders.
“We use that money to give counseling and support and pluck minors out of the judicial system,” Pasadena Police Chief Philip Sanchez told the Weekly. “If they graduate from the Youth Accountability Board, then we expunge their record. That [funding] might be at risk if the full weight of the sequester comes to fruition.”
Back at the federal level, more than 7,000 officers and agents with the US Customs and Border Protection, as well as airport security officers, could be furloughed. The US Department of Justice would also be forced to lay off approximately 1,000 federal agents and 1,300 Bureau of Prisons correctional officers. The Department of Defense would be forced to furlough 64,000 employees, at a savings of $400 million in gross pay, part of the 7.9 percent, or $42.7 billion in reductions called for in defense spending.
The proposed cuts were part of a deal struck by the two political parties last year when President Obama asked Congress to raise the nation’s debt ceiling. Obama formally enacted the cuts after Democrats and Republicans reached an impasse on budget talks. Republicans said they wanted spending cuts, but no tax increases. Democrats wanted to raise revenue by closing tax loopholes for the rich — covering roughly half the mandated cuts — along with targeted reductions.
“We need to find a permanent fix to these fiscal issues,” Schiff said. “It just shouldn’t be that hard if both parties would come to the table open to a balanced agreement that has a combination of responsible spending cuts, the elimination of special interest tax loopholes and a priority on job growth.”