Sequestration will have broad local effects


Patricia Souza, delivery driver for Meals on Wheels, delivers food to Jack Johnson on Wednesday in Gainesville. Johnson said he'd have a hard time getting food if it weren't for the program.

Matt Stamey/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Wednesday, February 27, 2013 at 5:06 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 27, 2013 at 5:06 p.m.

The looming federal spending cuts of the sequester could have broad local effects that touch the public school system, university research, health care, and services for the poor, homeless and seniors.

The county's Meals on Wheels program for seniors gets the majority of its $500,000 annual budget from the federal government, said Anthony Clarizio, executive director of ElderCare of Alachua County.

The program currently serves approximately 300 people daily and has a waiting list of almost 600 people, Clarizio said.

"Any cuts to this program would be devastating and would add seniors back to the waiting list, taking meals away from people who are receiving them," Clarizio said. "The need is greater than what we are currently serving."

For Alachua County Public Schools, the cuts would mean less money to assist students from low-income households through programs such as Title I, Head Start and free and reduced meals as well as less funding to programs for disabled students, spokeswoman Jackie Johnson said.

The district receives $39 million a year in federal money for those programs, Johnson said. It's unclear right now how much each program would lose and how many students would be affected, she said.

"There are a lot of unknowns right now," Johnson said

The 10-year cuts scheduled to begin Friday would trim 5.1 percent annually from non-defense discretionary programs and almost 8 percent from defense.

Because the cuts take effect mid-fiscal year, the White House Office of Management and Budget says the reductions would be more pronounced this year — 9 percent for nondefense programs and 13 percent for defense.

For the University of Florida, an approximately 5 percent loss in research funding could mean $14 million less annually, said David Norton, UF's vice president for research.

"We anticipate that there will be a significant decrease in the number of research awards coming to the university because of sequestration," Norton said.

Norton said the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation already have slowed the flow of research monies to universities because of the looming sequester.

Dr. David Guzick, the senior vice president for health affairs for the UF&Shands Health System, said the cuts will be two-pronged. The Health Science Center would stand to lose roughly $5 million of the $100 million it sees annually in research monies from the National Institute of Health.

Medicare funding also will take a 2 percent cut, which translates to $4 million a year for Shands, Guzick said.

To make up for it, the hospital will look to reduce costs without cutting staff or the quality of care and to increase revenues from other categories of patients, he said.

For the Florida Department of Health, federal grant funding for HIV/AIDS testing, chronic disease prevention, nutrition programs and immunizations will see cuts.

Currently, the Women, Infants and Children program, which provides healthy foods, nutrition education and counseling to families in need, and the Ryan White Grant, which serves individuals with HIV/AIDS who cannot afford medical care, are the largest grant awards that might be affected, department spokeswoman Ashley Carr said in a statement.

The White House has projected a $1.4 million loss leading to 35,900 fewer HIV tests annually in Florida.

In the department's statement, Carr said that "after careful budget review," the department believed "the impact will be minimal" on WIC and the HIV/AIDS program.

Cuts to the Department of Housing and Urban Development will reduce available funding for the Community Development Block Grant program, from which Gainesville receives funding. Also losing funding will be the area's two housing authorities and shelter programs for the homeless.

Herbert Hernandez, the new executive director of the Alachua County Housing Authority, estimated that the agency could lose approximately 50 of its 750 housing vouchers. Hernandez said that would not happen through evictions. Instead, when current voucher recipients leave the program or pass away, those vouchers would not be reissued.

Worker furloughs are expected to hit the Environmental Protection Agency. If those furloughs last for extended periods, that could delay the still-unstarted cleanup of the Koppers Superfund site because EPA officials in Atlanta are supposed to oversee the project, county Environmental Protection Director Chris Bird said.

Unemployment checks will be sliced by more than 9 percent.

FloridaWorks, the regional workforce board that assists the unemployed with job training and finding employment, eventually will see cuts.

Executive Director Kim Tesch-Vaught said the agency's budget — $21.7 million this year — is fully funded by the federal government. She said the cuts are likely 12 to 15 months away because federal funding for workforce boards flows down in two-year increments.

Staff writer Kristine Crane contributed to this report.

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

▲ Return to Top