Region would feel immediate effects of sequester-driven budget cuts

2013-02-25T19:00:00Z 2013-04-03T18:19:21Z Region would feel immediate effects of sequester-driven budget cutsTimes Staff nwitimes.com
February 25, 2013 7:00 pm  • 

Unless Congress acts by Friday, $85 billion in automatic budget cuts, known as the sequester, are set to take effect from March through September.

The Times looks at what those automatic budget cuts would mean in Indiana and the region if they happen.

EDUCATION AND CHILD CARE

An automatic cutback on federal funding would cost Indiana about $13.8 million in funding for public schools, putting around 190 teacher and aide jobs at risk. The state also would lose about $12.4 million in funds for about 150 teachers, aides and staff who help children with disabilities. Head Start services would be eliminated for about 1,000 children.

Cuts in Northwest Indiana would be equally dramatic, with schools already struggling due to statewide cutbacks and property tax caps.

Portage Township Schools Superintendent Ric Frataccia said it would affect federally funded programs like Title I, which provides services for students who need additional instruction in math or reading, and special education, and Title II, which deals with professional development. Frataccia estimated Portage schools would lose about $300,000 worth of services.

"We could make it through the end of the school year but we'd have to reach into our general fund budget, which is already strapped," Frataccia said.

School City of Hammond Superintendent Walter Watkins said they have not talked about the impact to Hammond schools yet. "If this becomes a reality, we'll put our troops together and make decisions," he said.

Sanford Kauffman, president of the Merrillville-based Geminus Corp., which oversees federal funding for Head Start services, said Geminus was advised by the Health and Human Services department to try to cut expenditures and not the number of children served.

Geminus and Head Start provide services to about 1,500 low-income children in Lake and Porter counties, 10 percent of whom have a disability.

LAW ENFORCEMENT AND ANTI-VIOLENCE PROGRAMS

Some of Northwest Indiana's criminals may experience less deterrence if the sequestration crisis isn't resolved in four days.

"It will impact investigations. We are going to furlough employees starting in April," Robert Ramsey, FBI supervisory senior resident agent, said.

"Our office hasn't been given much guidance at all," Ramsey said.

Charles Porucznik, executive director of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area task force, said he was told federal programs may have to absorb as much as a 5 percent cut in their 2013 budgets.

Indiana stands to lose about $262,000 in Justice Assistance Grants for crime prevention and education, drug treatment and enforcement, crime victim and witness initiatives and an additional $138,000 in funds to victims of domestic violence, resulting in up to 500 fewer victims being served.

Porter County Sheriff David Lain said it will have little impact on his department, which receives little assistance from federal grants. He said the $400,000 a year the county receives for housing federal court detainees in the county jail is unlikely to be affected.

Lake County Sheriff John Buncich and some municipalities have received thousands in JAG money in the last eight years to pay overtime for short-staffed police departments.

HEALTH CARE 

The financial blow to public health in Indiana would lead to fewer substance abuse program admissions, fewer HIV tests and fewer vaccinated children, according to numbers from the White House.

Indiana will lose about $1.7 million in grants that help prevent and treat substance abuse, meaning about 1,100 fewer admissions to substance abuse programs.

It would be a hit on an already underfunded need, said Dr. Kobie Douglas, chief medical officer at Edgewater Systems for Balanced Living in Gary.

"There's already a huge need, especially when it comes to substance abuse services," he said. "That population is already underserved. If you cut funding to provide those services, it doesn't mean substance abuse is going to stop. It's going to go untreated."

Politicians may view substance abuse as an individual problem, but it affects families and communities, Douglas said.

More cuts would limit the ability of agencies such as Edgewater that already operate without much financial backing. Edgewater partly relies on federal and state funding to provide treatment. Those dollars already have been reduced, he said.

"Even if it were to go through, it would be irresponsible of the state government to allow those cuts to happen," he said.

The Indiana State Department of Health will lose about $146,000, leading to 3,700 fewer HIV tests.

Funding for vaccines will be cut by about $189,000, meaning about 2,770 fewer children will receive vaccines for diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, whooping cough, influenza and Hepatitis B.

JOBS

If the cuts take effect, Indiana will lose about $683,000 in funding for job search assistance, referral and placement.

Center for Work Force Innovations President and CEO Linda Woloshansky said her Valparaiso-based agency anticipated possible budget cuts and took steps to position itself for the worst-case scenario. The agency helps train and place the unemployed. WorkOne also helps companies find the right workers and works with area colleges and schools on referrals and training.

“What we did was start to co-locate Work One offices with other entities in July and August of 2012, which is the beginning of our program year,” Woloshansky said. “That allowed us to save a significant amount of money.”

Woloshansky said the biggest unknown is what percentage of their budget will be cut.

“We have no idea,” Woloshansky said. “But essentially it happens immediately and would impact this entire program year, which started in July."

If the cuts to the military, education and other federally funded agencies take effect, Woloshansky said she anticipates more area residents will become unemployed and be seeking jobs.

“The unemployment rate very well may go up,” Woloshansky said. “How much? I would have no idea.”

NATIONAL PARKS

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Monday touted a new report on the link between visitors to National Park Service properties, the economy and jobs, saying sequestration would reverse a growing positive trend.

Salazar said 279 million visitors to National Park Service properties in 2011, including the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, pumped $30 billion into the economy and supported 252,000 jobs nationwide. The number of visitors grew by 3 million in 2012, he said.

With the sequester, Salazar said, the NPS will have to reduce hours and close camping and other recreation areas.

Specific impacts on the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore are not yet known.

Salazar said one-third of the money spent by visitors is spent within a 30-mile radius of NPS properties.

"As any wise investor will tell you, one must continue to invest in such areas that yield such a powerful return," he said.

MILITARY

About 11,000 civilian Department of Defense employees would be furloughed in Indiana, reducing gross pay by around $64.4 million. Funding for Air Force operations in Indiana would be cut by about $7 million. Base operation funding for the Army would be cut by about $12.7 million.

"The impact on Northwest Indiana will be fairly all-encompassing," said U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Ind. "With the Army National Guard specifically, it is important to note that 1,000 civilian employees are likely to be furloughed. The furlough of civilian employees will have a major impact on the ability of the Guard's uniform personnel to perform their jobs."

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