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Sequester cuts starting to land in Washington, but impact on such sensitive programs as Head Start for kids won’t be felt right away

Post by Brad Shannon / The Olympian on March 6, 2013 at 3:04 pm | No Comments »
March 8, 2013 9:11 am
Randy Dorn
UPDATERandy Dorn

UPDATE: Our print story that expands on this post from Wednesday is here.

Budget gurus for the state of Washington are still calculating the actual effects of the much federal spending cuts being triggered by a 2011 budget vote in Congress known as the “sequestration.’’

But the cuts began taking effect Friday to the tune of almost $83 million in state-administered programs over the next seven months, and the timing and effects vary by program in state government and agencies it funds.

What is known is that vulnerable populations such as the disabled, seniors, kids in Head Start and low-income mothers with infants will see some cuts in services, while many public school impacts won’t land until fall.

Overall, the $85 billion in federal sequester-related cuts, if carried out fully across the country through September, are going to be felt broadly in the Northwest economy– particularly when federal military cuts are considered. The U.S. House took up a continuing resolution on the budget today [Wednesday] and majority Republicans rejected a Democratic motion that would have forced a prioritization of the cuts.

The overall across-the-board cuts could subtract $3.4 billion or 4 percent directly from the state’s economy, according to Gov. Jay Inslee’s Office of Financial Management. Friday, March 1, was the official trigger date for the cuts which could still be blunted by congressional action.

The across-the-board cuts represent about $9 million for Head Start programs in Washington. State schools Superintendent Randy Dorn as well as advocates at both the Washington State Association of Head Start and the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program say it could mean 1,090 kids from low-income homes will not get into the preschool programs next fall.

“The impact here will be huge. In (Washington) we’re only serving about 38% of eligible 3 and 4 year olds in (Head Start) and ECEAP, and this just makes things worse,” added Katy Warren, deputy director of the state Head Start association. She said in an email that decisions on how to handle the reductions will be left to individual community programs, which operate in South Sound counties.

For Sandy Nelson, assistant superintendent for early learning at Educational Service District 113 based in Olympia, the cuts mean the closure of a couple of Head Start classrooms at the facilities she oversees in Thurston, Mason and Grays Harbor counties.

She estimated that upward of three dozen children age 3 and 4 would be unable to get services.

“I’ve been in Head Start since 1977 and have never ever had to do this,’’ Nelson said.

Nelson said ESD 113 leaders expect to decide by the end of March. They’ve been holding off hoping that Congress would reconsider. But today’s continuing budget resolution in the U.S. House – H.R. 933 – did not offer relief.

With tight budgets that are heavy on personnel costs and little flexibility in supplies and facilities, Nelson said, “We have no choice but to close some classrooms.”

To date, a lot of attention has been paid – with reason – to the military cuts. Defense cuts are expected to translate into furloughs for up to 16,200 civilian workers at Joint Base Lewis McChord and another 16,000 Navy employees in the Northwest, most of which are in Washington state. The governor’s budget office cites a recent news report that pegged the potential lost-payroll costs at $175 million to the region.

All told, potential job losses across the economy are estimated at 43,151 in 2013 and 54,359 in the following year – if Congress fails to act to reverse the cuts, OFM is saying.

The impacts will be felt across a swath of  programs administered by the state. OFM’s preliminary estimates show cuts of $83 million to state managed programs and an additional cuts of about $24.6 million to 20 grants to local governments and individuals, based upon federal information.

Cuts for public schools would mostly land in fiscal year 2014. This includes $14 million-plus in Title I funds that pay for instructional staff, extended-time programs and other help for students in poor K-12 schools and $14 million-plus for supplemental services for disabled students. About $3 million of early-learning cuts would hit teacher training and outreach for the Washington Kindergarten Inventory of Development Skills.

State Superintendent Dorn says one cut hitting during the current budget year is $2 million for federal “impact aid.” This goes to school districts that have large areas of tax-exempt federal lands such as military bases and American Indian reservations.

State Rep. Larry Seaquist said this week that higher education cuts could exceed $900,000 for federal financial aid, causing reductions in aid packages for 1,357 public and private school students. He cited calculations from Federal Funds Information for States and the Washington Student Achievement Council.

Among state agencies, some of the bigger reductions include:

–$10.6 million in reductions at the Department of Social and Health Services, which says vulnerable clients would be affected. This includes a $2.1 million cut that would reduce services for about 1,600 foster-care children, agency spokesman Thomas Shapley said.

Another $2.8 million reduction could affect as many as 1,300 people with disabilities, preventing them from getting unemployment plans or vocational rehabilitation help. And a $1.1 million reduction would affect about 29,400 seniors through “lost home-delivered meals, congregate meals, transportation and information and assistance.”

Also, a $1.9 million cut to substance abuse programs could cause 3,000 DSHS clients to receive less treatment and prevention services as county outpatient and tribal contracts are reduced. A $494,000 cut in mental health funds would reduce treatment, prevention and wellness assistance for about 7,200 clients, which DSHS says could increase hospitalization and shift more mentally ill people into homelessness or the criminal justice system.

Lastly, a $715,000 cut in refugee services could end help for about 500 clients a month with employment-related services and English-as-a-Second-Language help.

Shapley said the mega-agency is exploring “potential” options for limiting the harm. Those could include use of leftover funds from prior budget years, asking state lawmakers for help, prioritizing cuts inside grant programs that allow that, and time limits or benefit caps for participants to avoid halting services.

–$42 million in benefit cuts at the Employment Security Department, which is still waiting for more direction from the U.S. Labor Department on how to put the cuts into place for those receiving weekly jobless benefits. Benefits are expected to be cut.

ESD also faces $12 million in operations funds which could compound staffing reductions and $6.3 million in Trade Adjustment Account and the Workforce Investment Act money that helps with workforce training. The agency already had plans to cut 300 jobs but now is looking at eliminating up to 400 positions in May, spokeswoman Sheryl Hutchison said this week.

–About $600,000 cut from the Commerce Department for weatherization would cut off home-energy efficiency improvements for 1,300 low-income families, according to OFM. Commerce’s spreadsheet that itemizes cuts says another cut of nearly $3.1 million in the home-energy assistance means 4,800 fewer households get help with heating bills in the 2013 program year. The latter cut comes on top of reductions in federal funds in each of the past two fiscal years.

Other Commerce cuts include $526,000 less in aid to crime victims, which results in $2,100 less for 79 different providers of services to victims of sexual assaults and $4,000 less for each of 43 domestic-violence agencies. A separate cut for $96,000 affects other programs providing assistance after violence against women. Commerce says the crime victims cut follows cuts of 12.5 percent in 2012.

Other grant programs affected include a housing subsidy program that will provide vouchers to 13 fewer households where at least one family member is diagnosed with HIV or AIDS. Ten of those households may lose other support services such as nutrition and transportation help.

A $287,000 cut to a home investment program is not considered a significant loss to the program. The number of capital projects would continue but at reduced funding levels. More significant hits are expected with other reductions in HOME program funding and reductions in housing subsidies.

Commerce spokeswoman Penny Thomas said administrative funds are cut for the agency but it appears staffing cuts can be avoided.

–Cuts at the Department of Health take away $7.9 million from the Women, Infants and Children supplemental nutrition program. An estimated 13,300 clients would lose “some nutritional assistance,” according to OFM. Another $2.5 million in capital grants for improving local waste water and drinking water systems is cut.

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