|By G. Michael Dobbs
Officials at Westover Air Reserve Base said the federal budget will make an impact on the civilian employees at the base as well as the mission of the base.
U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kelly Galloway
Furloughs of personnel, cutbacks of hundreds of households in a fuel assistance program, and children being dropped from Head Start Inc., are just some of local effects from the federal budget cuts due to start implementation on March 1.
Local social service agencies and Westover Air Reserve Base were among the federally funded entities bracing for the effect of the budget cuts known as "The Sequester."
Earlier in the week, Congressman Richard Neal released a statement that said, "The vast majority of people in Western Massachusetts have told me they are against sequestration because of the significant damage it could do here in the region. They believe this is just another manufactured crisis, and would rather see Congress work together in a bipartisan manner to cut taxes and reduce the deficit. I agree. With four legislative days left before the deadline, I hope a common sense, fair and balanced compromise can be reached that will prevent these devastating spending cuts from taking place. The American people are interested in solutions, not gimmicks."
Neal has voted against the proposal that created the $85 billion budget cut.
But, as the deadline loomed reports from the nation's capital indicated there was little or no movement toward finding a solution or stopgap measure.
On Feb. 27, two days before the March 1 deadline, the executive directors of Springfield Partners for Community Action (SPCA) and the Valley Opportunity Council (VOC), as well as Nicole Blais of Holyoke-Chicopee-Springfield Head Start met with the press to preview what will happen to the clients of their agencies.
Paul Bailey, executive director of SPCA, said allowing the across the board 5 percent budget cuts to take place was "an abdication of responsibility" and "no way to govern."
He asserted the cuts will "disproportionally affect low income and working families." Baily added the cuts would be more difficult to address for agencies as they come in the middle of fiscal year.
Steve Huntley, executive director of VOC, noted that two major programs of that community action agency would face cuts. The VOC fuel assistance program will have to drop as many as 706 households that receive fuel assistance. More than 200 people will not be able to receive WIC benefits, the food voucher program for at-risk families with young children, he added.
Huntley said the budget challenges don't stop in March. On March 27, the "continuing resolution" expires that funds the federal government. If Congress doesn't extend it, the government could shut down. The other unknown factor is the heightening of the debt ceiling Congress must address, he added.
The face of the people being served by the VOC has changed, Huntley said. More people have college degrees and are trying to cope with job loss and foreclosure.
Blais, who is the director of Community Engagement for Head Start, explained that children in the program would have to be dropped. She said many children would lose their space in the program and the criteria for making those decisions have yet determined has yet to be explained.
She added that the budget cuts were "ironic" as President Barack Obama emphasized the need for education, including early childhood education, in his State of the Union address just a few weeks ago.
Westover Air Reserve Base released a statement that the budget cuts will trigger furloughs being in late April for most of the base's 759 civilian employees.
"Nearly all of our civilian workforce of 759 will be relegated to a four-day work week, which amounts to a 20 percent pay cut for the remainder of the fiscal year," Col. Steven Vautrain, 439th Airlift Wing Commander said. "The shortage of personnel will affect all of our mission areas, and the pay cut will affect the local economy."
The air reserve base is a major economic driver to the Western Massachusetts economy and put $238 million in region in 2012.
Vautrain said with salary and other financial reductions, a 10 percent cut would remove nearly $24 million from the local economy.
The unpaid furloughs likely would be one day per week for the last 22 weeks of the fiscal year, from late April through September, and the cuts would amount to an expected $5 billion in spending reduction, according to the DOD website.
"Sequestration will affect all our mission areas: operations, maintenance, support and medical," Vautrain said.
According to a fact sheet on the impact to the Bay State released by the White House, "Massachusetts will lose approximately $13.9 million in funding for primary and secondary education, putting around 190 teacher and aide jobs at risk. In addition about 20,000 fewer students would be served and approximately 60 fewer schools would receive funding. Massachusetts will lose approximately $13.4 million in funds for about 160 teachers, aides, and staff who help children with disabilities."
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