Sequestration may hurt schools, services

Scott Air Force Base has reported that furloughs for civilian employees would begin around mid-April if sequestration isn’t avoided. (Wikipedia file photo)

That nasty term “sequestration” reared its ugly head March 1, as the deadline for Congress to prevent across-the-board cuts to federal spending passed without an agreement.

U.S. Congressman Bill Enyart (D-Belleville) expressed disappointment and frustration in a Friday statement, saying “Congress must work together to put our workers, families, veterans, and small business owners first and Southern Illinois should not have to pay the price of political dysfunction.”

It’s all an attempt to get a handle on the growth of America’s national debt, which now stands at more than $16 trillion. Congress pushed back sequestration to March 1 as part of the looming “fiscal cliff” earlier this year.

Last week, President Barack Obama’s administration released a state-by-state breakdown of the $85 billion in cuts to go into effect for the remaining seven months of the fiscal year ending Sept. 30. A study by the Pew Center on the States indicates Illinois would be the second hardest-hit state in the country, with sequester cuts amounting to more than 8 percent of its general revenue.

Last Monday, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin joined Enyart in discussing the impact of budget cuts on Scott Air Force Base, one of this area’s largest employers. An estimated 4,500 civilian base employees would be furloughed, they said. This would equate to a loss of millions of dollars to the region’s economy.

Scott Air Force Base has reported that furloughs for civilian employees would begin around mid-April if sequestration isn’t avoided.

Illinois also stands to lose about $33.4 million in education, according to reports. This funding would be trimmed from primary and secondary education, putting hundreds of teacher and aide jobs at risk.

Waterloo School Superintendent Jim Helton said he’s been told his district could see a 5.1 reduction in funding, but it won’t take effect into next year.

“Right now, our major source of federal revenues are in special education, title 1 and 2 grants, vocational, and school breakfasts/lunches,” he said.

If that is the case, the loss could be around $70,000.

“With the lesser funding from the State of Illinois and the mandates surrounding special education, this is significant,” Helton said.

Other sequestration cuts could affect local behavioral health services.

Human Support Services Executive Director Robert Cole said that since many important behavioral health services are funded through Medicaid, these services are exempt from sequestration cuts.

Where cuts will be noticeable, however, are in programs funded through federal grants directly to agencies or indirectly through states, he said.

“Many community-based services that work to assist individuals to be successful, to avoid homelessness and to remain independent would see cuts,” Cole said. “Services like employment and housing assistance, case management services, school-based services, school services to disabled children, early intervention services, care coordination services, suicide prevention and outreach services would be affected.”

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