The unkindest cuts

Programs that serve children, elderly prepare for effects of sequestration
Foster grandparent Sandy Knutson shares a story with Jaylen, left, and Emily at the South Medford Head Start. Both the grandparent and preschool programs would suffer reductions if the federal sequestration goes into effect, resulting in $85 billion in automatic cuts nationwide.Bob Pennell

Children at a Head Start school in west Medford know her as Grandma Sandy, a kindly 78-year-old woman who has been a foster grandparent for 13 years.

Sandy Knutson devotes four hours a day to helping at-risk children get ready for kindergarten.

Where it will come from

Some examples of the effects of the $74.7 million in sequestration cuts in Oregon:

  • Teachers and schools: Oregon will lose about $10.2 million for primary and secondary education, putting about 140 teacher and aide jobs at risk. In addition, about 13,000 fewer students would be served and about 40 fewer schools would receive funding.
  • Education for children with disabilities: Oregon will lose about $6.4 million, meaning 80 fewer teachers, aides and staff who help children with disabilities.
  • Work-study jobs: About 240 low-income students would not receive aid for college and about 280 students would no longer have work-study jobs that help them pay for college.
  • Head Start: Head Start and Early Head Start services would be eliminated for about 600 children in Oregon.
  • Protections for clean air and clean water: Oregon would lose about $1.88 million in environmental funding to ensure clean water and air quality. Oregon could lose another $1.05 million in grants for fish and wildlife protection.
  • Military readiness: About 3,000 civilian Department of Defense employees would be furloughed, reducing gross pay by about $16.5 million total.
  • Army: Base operation funding would be cut by about $1.6 million.
  • Law enforcement and public safety funds for crime prevention and prosecution: Oregon will lose about $155,000 in Justice Assistance Grants that support law enforcement, prosecution and courts, crime prevention and education, corrections and community corrections, drug treatment and enforcement, and crime victim and witness initiatives.
  • Job search assistance: Oregon will lose about $470,000 for job search assistance, referral and placement, affecting 16,320 unemployed residents.
  • Child care: Up to 300 disadvantaged children could lose access to child care, which helps parents hold down a job.
  • Vaccines for children: About 1,670 fewer children will receive vaccines for diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, whooping cough, influenza, and Hepatitis B once funding is cut by about $114,000.
  • Public health: Oregon will lose about $366,000 earmarked to help upgrade its ability to respond to public health threats, including infectious diseases, natural disasters and biological, chemical, nuclear and radiological events. In addition, Oregon will lose about $890,000 in grants to help prevent and treat substance abuse, resulting in about 3,800 fewer admissions to substance abuse programs. And the Oregon Health Authority will lose about $113,000, resulting in about 2,800 fewer HIV tests.
  • Women's health: 462 fewer women would be able to receive breast and cervical cancer screenings.
  • STOP Violence Against Women Program: Oregon could lose up to $81,000 in funds that provide services to victims of domestic violence, resulting in up to 300 fewer victims being served.
  • Nutrition assistance for seniors: Oregon would lose about $690,000 in funds that provide meals for seniors.

— Source: Sen. Jeff Merkley

"It's good for kids, and it keeps us active and busy," Knutson said after reading a story to several children.

Knutson worries about the Foster Grandparent Program as well as Head Start because both would suffer if $85 billion in federal sequestration cuts take effect at midnight Friday because Congress and the White House failed to reach a compromise on the 2013 budget.

"For myself, it wouldn't hurt, but for a lot of people it would be very sad," Knutson said.

In Oregon, $74.7 million in federal dollars would be carved out of food programs for seniors, public health for the poor and job search assistance for the unemployed.

The Medford School District, bracing for another round of cutbacks because of spiraling costs for the Public Employee Retirement System, could see a 10 percent drop in federal dollars next year.

About 3,000 civilian U.S. Department of Defense employees would be furloughed, a $16.5 million loss to the state economy. The U.S. Army would see funding for base operations cut by about $1.6 million in Oregon.

Programs that provide access to vaccinations would be severely cut, and drug abuse treatments also would be cut back.

Head Start would have to turn away 600 children statewide. Of the 1,215 children in Jackson and Josephine counties, about 50 might be cut from the program.

Head Start Director Nancy Nordyke said she feared her organization might have to consider closing early this year, or cut back on its summer class offerings.

Instead of being forced to downsize, Head Start should be expanding its services, Nordyke said.

"We know the model works," she said. "It gives kids an advantage going into school. Also, you can't expect them to learn if they're hungry or have health problems."

Children aren't the only ones who potentially could go hungry as a result of cuts in federal dollars.

Dave Toler, director of Senior and Disability Services, said he worries that a 5 to 10 percent cut could hurt the senior meals program as well as a family caregiver program.

"Is the sky falling? Probably not," he said. "But nobody knows yet what the cuts are going to be."

He said the uncertainty makes it difficult to plan for the senior meals program that serves 1,000 residents a day in Jackson and Josephine counties. Toler said he is projecting a 9 percent reduction, or $75,000, in the meals budget.

Toler said he doesn't have a waiting list for the Meals on Wheels program, but, depending on the severity of the cuts, that could change.

"We may have to look at starting to say 'no' to folks," he said.

His program also offers meals at sites in Merlin, Wolf Creek, Grants Pass, Medford, Phoenix and Ashland.

"We might have to look at closing some meal sites," he said.

A caregiver program that serves more than 100 elderly residents in the two counties could see a 9 percent cut, or $60,000, he said.

Toler said the reduction could mean more seniors heading to hospitals or other institutions for health services, and that ultimately would cost taxpayers more money.

Many of the cuts will hurt residents who are already on the edge financially.

Becky Snyder, executive director of Rogue Valley Manor Community Services, said she the foster grandparent program with 83 foster grandparents in Jackson County and 27 in Josephine County could be affected.

Foster grandparent officials anticipate that 14 foster grandparents could lose their positions and their $2.65-an-hour stipend. (Corrected 3/1/13)

Schools with a large number of students from poor families have received extra funding from the federal government. Schools also receive extra funding for children with disabilities.

The Medford School District gets $7.5 million annually from the federal government, but anticipates a loss of $750,000 as a result of the sequestration.

"We're planning for a worst-case scenario of 10 percent," Superintendent Phil Long said.

The district hopes to avoid making staff reductions because of the federal cuts, but will be looking at ways to reduce expenses for supplies, defer purchasing of any new technologies and curtail staff development programs, he said.

With so many budget pressures, both from the state and from the federal government, Long said educators are running on fumes trying to keep the district functioning.

"Our challenge is to keep the focus on kids when everything around us is getting tighter," he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or email dmann@mailtribune.com.



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