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Local impacts of possible budget cuts

POSTED: February 24, 2013 12:30 a.m.

Looming cuts to the federal budget threaten a number of local agencies that distribute and rely on federal dollars. The following are just a few of those programs affected in Northeast Georgia.

WOMEN AND CHILDREN’S HEALTH

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, a nutrition program designed to influence healthy behaviors in a high-risk population of children younger than 5 and mothers, could have its funding reduced by $297 million.

The program provides food vouchers for specific nutritious items, nutrition education and breast-feeding support.

Another grant, the Maternal and Child Health Services Block Grant to the States, enables the state to assist a large population of women and children with their health care needs and could have its funding reduced by $16 million.

According to Friends of Maternal and Child Health and the Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs, more than 750,000 mothers and infants could be cut from WIC nationwide.

There are more than 17,000 participants in the 13-county District 2 Public Health region. In Hall County alone there are more than 7,000 participants. According to Georgia WIC, the state is the nation’s fifth largest WIC program.

Charlene Thompson, nutrition services director for District 2 Public Health, said the local program will just have to work with whatever amount of money it is given.

She said the program has tried to keep costs low by holding group classes and using technology to connect participants with dieticians.

“We just keep working on it and thinking about what we may have to do in the future,” Thompson said. “If we cut staff or whatever, you just have to plan for whatever may happen. That’s why we’re trying to come up with more convenient ways to get more for a dollar.”

Savannah King

EMERGENCY SERVICES

Memories of a deadly 1998 tornado are seared in the minds of longtime residents of the Hall County area.

In the event of another large scale emergency, federal sequestration could be “devastating,” Hall County Fire Chief and Emergency Management Director David Kimbrell said.

“It’s purely hypothetical, but if something on the scale of the 1998 tornado, for example, were to happen, and those cuts came through, the local impact could be devastating,” he said.

In the aftermath of large-scale disasters, the Federal Emergency Management Agency provides another layer of financial support and manpower to states dealing with disasters.

When Superstorm Sandy hit New York and New Jersey, Congress authorized $1.27 billion in funds. More than 4,000 FEMA personnel were deployed to the area.

FEMA stands to lose nearly $900 million if a deal is not reached in Congress.

Fire Marshall Scott Cagle recently spoke to members of a local Community Emergency Response Team, who assisted in Bartow County where a tornado recently hit.

CERT gets its funding from FEMA, which pays for instruction in CERT training sessions.

Emma Witman

EDUCATION

The U.S. Department of Education gave Georgia $5.8 billion in fiscal year 2013, but come March 1, that number could shrink dramatically.

Georgia Department of Education officials are prepping for between a 9 and 10 percent cut in federal funding moving into fiscal year 2014.

Last June the department was in similar waters, but the federal government diverted the sequestration and less than 1 percent was reduced in the funding.

“Depending on what they decide on in Congress, we’re just waiting to see what the final allocations will be for us,” said Harry Repsher, budget specialist for the state department of education. “We really don’t know whether they’ll divert it again or, in fact, they will make the approximate 10 percent cuts.”

According to Repsher, 90 percent of what the state gets from the federal government goes directly to local school systems, funding programs like special education and nutrition. If the money is held back it adds up to $328 million for special education grants in Georgia and $413 million for school lunches.

In fiscal year 2013, Gainesville City Schools received about $8.2 million in federally earmarked funds, the bulk of which, $4.3 million, went toward special education and school nutrition programs. Hall County Schools received about $30.8 million, nearly $20 million of which helped fund those two programs.

Gainesville City Schools Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said school officials are planning for federal cuts as “just another piece in the overall decrease in funding.”

Dyer said most of the federally earmarked dollars go to pay for the program’s personnel. Some programs, like special education, are under strict guidelines and, financially, do not have much leeway in how they are operated.

“Districts will not be relieved of the responsibility of providing services to children, but they may have to figure out how they’re going to find the funds if their (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) funds are reduced.”

Dyer said those funds would have to come out of their general fund.

“When you’re looking at your priorities, (special education is) what you’re going to have to maintain first,” Dyer said. “So, if that’s not going to be decreased, the decreases have to come from other areas.”

Lee Johnson

DEFENSE

Georgia’s adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Jim Butterworth, said last week, “From a military standpoint, we’re putting plans in place and reacting to the perceived reality that the sequester order will be coming down March 1.

“What that means to Georgia, I think folks haven’t fully realized yet,” he said. “I think it will be fairly detrimental to a state that has a fairly large military presence.”

He is concerned the government’s call for 22 furlough days for federal employees — many of whom are civilians within the Department of Defense — would have a huge ripple effect throughout Georgia’s economy.

“You’re talking about an (income loss) in the hundreds of millions of dollars,” said Butterworth, a Habersham County native.

Also, “operations and training both will be directly impacted,” he said. “We’re facing parking aircraft, both rotary and fixed-wing. Schools outside the state we’ve been sending folks to ... will be canceled. Military construction is going to be cut drastically.”

Chris Clark, president and CEO of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, said estimates show that defense cuts could cost Georgia some 24,000 jobs — as many as 9,000 nonmilitary defense department positions “that could be gone immediately.”

“What most don’t understand in Georgia is that defense contractors ... can have up to 300 small company suppliers that are located all over (the state),” he said.

“So, the impact is not just on these big defense contractors. It’s on small, mom-and-pop companies ... so we’re very concerned about that.”

Patrick Robbins, spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Mobile District in Alabama, said the corps expects defense cuts “will affect the military work we do.

“Exactly what those effects will be haven’t been determined, but we do know that operations and maintenance work at military installations, as well as construction could be affected,” he said.

On the civil works side, such as operations at Lake Lanier, “it is funded differently and not through the defense budget, so we are still awaiting guidance on what effect sequestration could have,” Robbins said.

Jeff Gill

POULTRY

The Gainesville-based Georgia Poultry Federation joined other trade associations in expressing concerns to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a Feb. 11 letter.

They asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture “to examine all options available to meet its obligations under sequestration while upholding its commitment to ensuring that American consumers have access to the safe, wholesome and nutritious protein sources they have come to expect from the nation’s meat, poultry, and egg products industries.”

Mike Giles, president of the poultry federation, said that poultry companies — a major industry in Hall and Northeast Georgia — are required by federal law to only operate when federal inspectors are on site.

“In the past, when the federal government has been shut down due to a lack of appropriations, food safety inspectors have been classified as essential and have remained on the job,” Giles said. “They are no less essential today.

“Shutting down poultry and meat production for an extended period of time is an option that should not be on the table. The economic consequences would be severe for the nation, not to mention the reduction in the food supply that would occur.”

Jeff Gill

HIV

HIV Care Formula Grants could be reduced by $38 million under sequestration. The grants assist states with improving the quality and availability of health care and support services to people living with HIV.

According to the District 2 Public Health office in Gainesville, there are more than 400 people in the 13-county region living with the disease. The exact number of people who are HIV positive is unknown since many people have never been tested.

“We are always concerned about any potential cut to any effective program,” Sarah Taylor, District 2 Public Health HIV education and prevention program coordinator said.

Injury Prevention and Control Research and State and Community Based Programs, which help state and local health departments improve the reporting of HIV laboratory data, could also be cut by $49 million.

Without knowing what exactly will come of the March 1 deadline, Taylor said significant cuts could limit the availability of health care to patients without insurance.

Savannah King

ARTS

Perhaps the two biggest concerns for arts leaders are the cuts to National Endowment for the Arts grants and how spending cuts will affect individuals’ disposable income.

The National Endowment for the Arts could lose about 8 percent or $12 million of its $146 million budget to sequestration.

In the last three federal budgets, NEA appropriations have declined by $21.5 million, according to the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies.

Ryan Stubbs, research director of the assembly, said reductions to NEA direct grants to the states could affect services that groups provide in their communities.

“Many of these ... grants are awarded to small grassroots organizations and groups providing assistance to underserved populations,” Stubbs said. “So even minor cuts can have a large impact on the local level.”

Savannah King


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