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Squeezed by Sequester

How Federal Spending Cuts Would Affect S.B.


Thursday, February 28, 2013

At this point, either Congress has reached an agreement to avoid the across-the-board spending cuts called “sequestration” or the pain is just starting to settle in. While it would be impossible to list all of the impacted services were the feds unable to cut a deal ​— ​the White House released a six-page bulleted list for the State of California alone ​— ​area officials have noted some of their most pressing concerns.

• The Santa Barbara Board of Supervisors addressed a letter to Congressmember Lois Capps explaining, “The cuts will impact services that include: public safety; public health; disaster preparedness and response; job training; community and economic development, social services and homeless assistance; and services to protect the elderly.”

• The county Department of Public Health would lose money for its Women, Infant, Children program, Nutrition Network, HIV/AIDS treatment, cancer detection, and mental health services for seriously mentally ill adults and emotionally disturbed children. Spokesperson Susan Klein-Rothschild pointed out that without many of these services, citizens will end up paying even more in the long run for jails or hospitalizations of uninsured patients. Medicare payments for subsidized health care would be delayed.

• Speaking of prison, employees at the federal facility in Lompoc could see furlough days, and reduced staffing would lead to more lockdowns, according to the Department of Justice. Drug treatment and vocational programs would go on the chopping block.

• Schools statewide look to lose $87.6 million for teachers and aides, as well as $62.9 million for children with disabilities. Santa Barbara district business honcho Meg Jetté estimated a loss of $400,000, mostly for personnel.

•Mayor Helene Schneider said that community aid block grants are in danger, as well as Section 8 housing vouchers.

• Research funding at UCSB is already down 20 percent as compared to last year with federal agencies only able to fund at a decreased rate while operating on a continuing resolution, said Michael Witherell, vice chancellor for research. The sequester calls for cuts to about 8 percent of nondefense research and development, a slightly more manageable hit that Witherell hopes agencies will settle at, once their budgets are known. Students on campus will also feel the sequester with the loss of federal aid such as work-study jobs.

• Vandenberg Air Force Base is looking at the possibility of a 20 percent reduction in the workweek for a civilian workforce of nearly 2,000. Brent McArthur, vice commander, said via email that “many of our launches occur after a typical duty day and many occur in the middle of the night. We will have many challenges that we will just have to work through.”

Executive Director of the UCSB Economic Forecast Project Peter Rupert pointed out that, for the sake of self-preservation, federally-funded entities are trying to scare the public with worst-case scenarios. Still, he said, 23 percent of Santa Barbara County’s workforce is employed in the public sector, about six points higher than the national average. So, he figured in a hypothetical thought experiment, if those workers averaged a furlough day a month, the county’s Gross Domestic Product would drop a percentage point. While hordes of children will likely not be running around half-naked hunting wild boar after March 1, the effects of that hit would ripple through the economy. As Rupert put it, “That’s not small potatoes.”

Regina Carter

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