Sequestration’s Trickle Down In Warren County

The economics of sequestration will trickle down – if they don’t arrive in a deluge.

Many local agencies, state agencies, and local branches of federal agencies depend on federal dollars.

March 1 is the deadline when sequestration cuts across the federal budget board will take effect if Congress does not pass a budget or kick the deadline down the road again.

A trillion dollars in federal budget cuts will result in significant funding cuts to programs and agencies at the local level.

The numbers are not clear, but the agencies generally have an idea what they face.

“We currently receive just over $3 million in federal money for programs such as Impact Aid, Title I, Title II, IDEA and Carl Perkins,” Warren County School District Business Administrator Jim Grosch said on Thursday. “From the research I have done, each of these programs may be impacted. I am not sure of how much at this point and I don’t believe anyone publicly knows for sure.”

For a school district that has had to cut millions of dollars in spending each of the last two years, one impact is clear. “It would not be a good thing for the WCSD,” Grosch said.

“When our region began the budget process for this fiscal year, we were instructed to do budget planning based on a five percent budget reduction,” Kathy Mohney, public affairs specialist for the Allegheny National Forest, said. “If necessary, the Forest is poised to continue to operate with a five percent reduction as we planned for at that time.”

“Employees are being kept current of any new developments on a regular basis by both the Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell and also Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack,” Mohney said.

At Kinzua Dam, budget cuts, no matter how deep, will not have an impact on public safety.

“All aspects of our mission that affect life and safety will continue no matter what,” Dan Jones, public affairs specialist for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District, said.

The Corps is part of the military, but funded by civil works, so the level of cuts is unclear. “We’re in a waiting mode,” Jones said.

Defense spending is set to be reduced by an estimated 8 percent with non-defense items set at about 5 percent.

Allegheny National Fish Hatchery Project Manager Larry Miller said the effects of the looming cuts are still being formulated at the regional office of the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) dollars come from the federal government to Warren County through the state Department of Community and Economic Development.

“They’re anticipating an eight percent reduction in federal grant programs,” Warren County grants administrator Lorri Dunlap said.

In that case, the county’s CDBG allocation would be down from $270,000 in 2012 to about $248,000 in 2013.

Agents from the Transit Authority of Warren County, who say they are already in danger of losing funding under Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposed transportation plan, did not speculate on whether or not they will lose federal funding under sequestration.

The executive director of Warren-Forest Economic Opportunity Council can neither provide nor receive clear information.

“Anyone we ask says they don’t know,” Bob Raible said. “I’m not sure. We just don’t know yet.”

The Budget Control Act of 2012 set $2.1 trillion in deficit reduction. About half – $917 billion – has already been put in motion. The remainder will be enacted across-the-board if an alternative isn’t passed.

Congressman Glenn Thompson (R-5th) is opposed to the sequestration cuts, but not to reducing spending.

“It would be irresponsible should Congress fail to replace the president’s sequester, which is why the House has passed legislation to replace these indiscriminate cuts with targeted spending reforms that achieve the same level of deficit reduction but without adversely impacting the economy,” Thompson said. “In order to replace the sequestration set to take place on March 1, 2013, we need the Senate to also act, which they have refused to do.”