‘Sequestration’ impacts coming to Missouri

Millions of dollars at stake from federal furloughs, cuts

If they work it correctly, Jeremy Amick and his boss expect no one will notice effects of the federal budget sequester — even though all three people in their Labor Department office will have to take 10 days of unpaid leave between April 5 and Sept. 30.

The sequester is an automatic, across-the-board, 8 percent cut in government discretionary spending, intended to reduce that spending by $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years.

It was put into federal law as part of the 2011 Budget Control Act, better known as the debt ceiling compromise.

As originally planned, it was to be the trigger so disliked by everybody in Washington that Congress and the president would agree on other ways to reduce federal spending.

But that agreement has yet to be reached, so the automatic cuts kicked in March 1, with $85 billion in reductions in the 2012-13 federal business year that ends Sept. 30.

As part of his job with the federal Labor department’s Veterans’ Employment & Training Service, Amick writes a weekly article about military veterans, their experiences and their outlook on life that’s published in Monday’s News Tribune.

And, he said Friday, that article should continue with no disruption — even as he and his two office-mates take their 10 days’ furlough during the next six months.

“We’ll have to work with director to determine which days we want to take off,” Amick said. “Basically, efforts will be made to accommodate the days that we take off.”

William Benzel heads the Jefferson City-based Missouri office of the DOL/VETS program.

Because of the sequester, he said: “We’re having to adjust our operating budgets, as far as providing services and oversight to the grants and everything in the state that we do.

“We’re still going to be able to conduct our mission — we’re just having to tighten things up.”

Unless Congress rewrites the law, the cuts are to affect every federal agency equally.

But the agencies still have some discretion to decide how the cuts will work for their operations.

And, in many cases, those cuts still are being discussed, so it’s too soon to tell how a spending cut at the federal level will affect the federal agencies — and the state agencies they work with or help pay for.

“We don’t have much specific guidance at this time,” Missouri National Guard spokeswoman Tammy Spicer reported Friday. “While sequestration is affecting the Missouri National Guard, we have a history of fiscal responsibility.”

Environmental Protection Agency spokesman David Bryan, of the Region 7 office in Lenexa, Kan., said the sequestration will affect all department employees and programs, with furloughs up to 104 hours (13 days) without pay.

At the state level, the cuts affect mostly programs.

“For the state of Missouri this translates into a reduction of more than $3.7 million,” Bryan said Friday, in an email. “Programs administered by Missouri Department of Natural Resources, including the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds, and grants for air-pollution programs ... will be affected by a reduction in funding.”

The sequestration cuts also will affect “radon grant funds administered by Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services and pesticide enforcement and pesticide programs administered by Missouri Department of Agriculture,” Bryan reported.

Some EPA discretionary grant funding also will be affected, “including reductions in awards for Superfund, Brownfield, pollution prevention, wetlands program development, research and development and community work,” Bryan said.

Missouri’s Transportation department is one of the biggest consumers of federal dollars.

Spokesman Bob Brendel said about $1 billion is expected to affect all transportation programs, nationwide.

“The Federal Aviation Administration could be hit by more than $600 million,” he said.

Brendel said it’s still too soon to know how the sequester will affect Missouri’s transportation funding.

“However, we do know that on Feb. 27, the FAA announced that 189 contract towers (around the country) will close, effective April 1,” including Jefferson City and Columbia’s airport control towers.

“While the airports will still be open for use, these budget cuts mean an actual FAA air traffic controller will not be on site as a safety precaution to direct airplanes coming into and taking off from these airports,” Brendel said, in an e-mail.

“Therefore, pilots will have to use communication devices and technologies on their own to enter and leave these airports.”

Jefferson City officials are studying that situation.

Meanwhile, Brendel said, MoDOT doesn’t expect any impact on road- and bridgebuilding efforts, or on public transit, because the highway trust fund was exempted from Congress’ sequester bill.

And, Brendel said, Missouri’s Amtrak passenger rail service doesn’t expect any impact.

More information may be available later, as other state agencies study their situations and the federal funding they may use or distribute.

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