By NR Staff • 

Sequestration ushers in unease, uncertainty

Local officials have been worrying about the arrival of the cuts, called sequestration. But they’re still not sure how much impact the sequester will have, in either the next few weeks or the coming fiscal year.

Here are some of their expectations and estimates.

Under sequestration, McMinnville could lose about $20,000 in Medicare payments annually — 2 percent of the approximate $1 million it receives each year for ambulance services, according to Finance Director Marcia Baragary. Baragary said the city also could see an indirect impact from reductions in funding for education, unemployment relief and public housing.

School districts are predicting to lose about 5 percent of their federal grant money for 2013-14 because of the sequester, according to an estimate from the National Association of School Administrators. That would cost the McMinnville district $140,000 to $180,000, according to Finance Director Susan Escure, the equivalent of two teaching positions.

McMinnville receives federal grant money for the Title 1 reading program, which supplements schools with at least 50 percent of students qualified for the Free and Reduced Lunch program. It also receives federal money for special education, its English Language Learner program and professional development.

In addition, the district is in the third year of a five-year competitive grant for teacher incentive programs. Escure said she’s unsure at this point whether the sequester would jeopardize the final two years of the grant.

With the unknown impact of the sequester looming, Escure said she’s pleased the district was able to refinance its construction bonds before March 1, saving $2.5 million.

The potential federal spending cuts could have a negative effect on the market, making investors wary of buying bonds, she said. If the district hadn’t closed in February, its savings might well have been reduced.

For Yamhill County department heads, it’s too soon for specifics on local impact.

County Administrator Laura Tschabold said most department heads don’t anticipate any direct and immediate impact, but federal budget cuts could limit the future availability of federal funds. Without a doubt, she said, Health and Human Services is most at risk.

“We are assessing potential impacts across the department and understand that there are indeed federal monies for public health that will likely be impacted, and additional other federal funds that are intended for human service delivery could also be reduced,” said Director Silas Halloran-Steiner.

“At this time, nothing is concrete. But it certainly isn’t allowing us to have a thoughtful planning process about how to meet the community’s needs in the face of the potential reductions.”

Federal cuts also could have a negative impact on local services to people in need, such as domestic violence victims.

Rhonda Fabreth, director at Henderson House, said the organization is bracing for cuts.

“It will affect the procurement of future grants, for sure,” she said. “We’re being told we can still make grant requests, but there is no guarantee funds are going to be available.

“As social services go down, violence goes up in all aspects of society. So, we end up paying more money to keep people in jail instead of prevention and changing societal norms.”

U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., said she is frustrated that lawmakers haven’t reached a deal preventing automatic, all-encompassing cuts.

“Once again, Congress’s failure to do its job may lead to thousands of Oregonians losing their jobs,” she said. “Instead of working through the weekend to repeal the harmful automatic, across-the-board sequestration cuts, Congress is going out of session.”

She called for legislators to work together to quickly fix the problems.

“Now is the time to set aside our differences and work for the good of the country,” Bonamici said. “Even as sequestration is set to take effect, there is still time to avert many of its harmful consequences. Congress should stay in Washington and get the job done.”

According to the White House, sequestration has the potential of forcing cuts to:

n Head Start, leaving 600 Oregon children without services.

n Substance abuse prevention and treatment, childhood vaccinations and other public health programs.

n Employment assistance programs.

n Senior meal programs.

n Grants to law enforcement, corrections and crime victim programs.

n Environmental programs, such as those aimed at protecting wildlife or preventing pollution.

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