Sequestration cuts could have far-reaching impact in area
by Patrick McCreless
pmccreless@annistonstar.com
Mar 01, 2013 | 8991 views |  0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Katie Waits, Marcia Ghee and Charlie Livingston prepare meals at the Oxford Senior Center on Thursday. (Anniston Star photo by Bill Wilson)
Katie Waits, Marcia Ghee and Charlie Livingston prepare meals at the Oxford Senior Center on Thursday. (Anniston Star photo by Bill Wilson)
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Sequestration means Dora Jones might be helping fewer area children.

Jones is director of the Cheaha Regional Head Start, which subsists on federal funding to provide education, health and other services to nearly 900 low-income children in the six-county area every year — 500 in Calhoun County alone. But despite its reach, the program still has an annual backlog of about 200 children waiting to get in.

With massive federal cutbacks known as sequestration beginning today, that backlog could soon grow.

“It would be a hardship on these families,” Jones said. “We could see many more on the waiting list.”

Head Start, which receives around $6 million in annual federal money, is not alone in the area in its funding woes.

The nearly $85 billion in cuts could have far-reaching effects throughout Calhoun County in the coming months. From scaled-back programs at public schools and fewer meals for the elderly to backlogs at the local Social Security office and jobs and work-hour cuts at the Anniston Army Depot, many in the area could feel some budgetary pain.

Randy Frost, director of senior services at the East Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission, said his program’s meal delivery services for many elderly residents could be affected. The program serves about 3,000 meals in a 10-county area every day.

“Yeah I think that’s a strong possibility,” Frost said. “The program uses predominantly federal funds, with just a little state match.”

Frost said the commission, which receives about $6 million in federal money for its senior services, could potentially receive a 12 percent, across-the-board cut due to sequestration. Yet, he said, the need for the meals-delivery program has grown in the last few years due to the aging baby boomer generation, and that trend shows no sign of stopping.

“From when we started in the mid-’70s, we have more people on the homebound waiting list now than in the past,” Frost said.

U.S. Army Col. Brent Bolander, commander of the depot, has said that due to sequestration, the facility’s 371 temporary employees will likely be laid off. Also, the Army plans to institute furloughs throughout the year for all its civilian employees as a cost-cutting measure, potentially affecting the depot’s 2,884 permanent employees.

Calhoun County schools Superintendent Joe Dyar said sequestration will not result in any county teacher layoffs.

“We plan for personnel funding a year in advance,” Dyar said.

Still, the school system is bracing for cuts to many of its programs. Dyar said school system funding could be cut between 5 percent and 10 percent during the 2014 fiscal year due to sequestration.

“We’re in a hold pattern ... we’re taking the initiative to plan that these cuts will take place,” Dyar said. “We’ve got a lot of programs that are federally funded.”

Dyar said programs like professional development for teachers could be scaled back, along with travel expenses, due to the cuts.

Gadsden State Community College, which has two campuses in Anniston, could also feel the sequestration’s impact.

“Where it will affect us is various grant programs,” said GSCC President Raymond Staats. “Pell Grants are exempt from cuts this year, but not next year.”

Gadsden State could also see fewer students enroll due to cuts to the federal work study job program. The program provides part-time jobs to students with financial need, allowing them to earn money to help pay their college expenses.

According to sequestration details the White House recently released, around 940 low-income Alabama students will be cut from the work-study program. Gadsden State has 50 such students.

Staats noted, however, that any cuts to the work-study program will not be felt immediately.

“Those students won’t be affected most likely on day one, March 1, since that funding has already been committed,” Staats said.

The Social Security Administration is also expected to take a hit from sequestration in the form of reduced service hours and growth in backlogs of disability claims. Calhoun County has 4,689 Social Security recipients who could see longer lines at the local Social Security office as a result.

The White House also stated that Alabama will lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding for job assistance programs, possibly harming the Cheaha Career Center in Anniston and the many unemployed residents it helps find work.

Tara Hutchison, spokeswoman for the Department of Labor, which oversees career centers in the state, said there is still no guarantee that the Cheaha Career Center will feel an effect.

“We have not been officially advised of any cuts regarding training dollars,” Hutchison said. “We are in a holding pattern awaiting instruction from the U.S. Department of Labor.”

Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.

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