Local officials wait for sequestration shoe to drop

Local officials are still trying to figure out how the across-the-board federal spending cuts known as sequestration will affect their offices.

Grays Harbor Public Health Director Joan Brewster briefed the county commissioners Monday morning, noting that she has always anticipated some kind of federal cuts would trickle down and hit her budget, which gets two-thirds of its funding from federal grants.

“For all of the federal revenue we receive, we already anticipated a 10 percent cut,” Brewster told the commissioners. “That means we’re in a better position to re-position dollars we get. … But we need to wait to see where the chips fall.”

A White House report on potential sequestration cuts noted specific cuts that would be felt across Washington state, including cuts to the AIDS Drug Assistance Program, which could result in a $174,000 cut and 4,300 fewer HIV tests conducted. And there would be $1.74 million in cuts to mental health and substance abuse services, resulting in more than 3,800 fewer admissions to substance abuse programs. Brewster says she’s especially keeping an eye on those potential cuts and how that would trickle down to the Harbor.

“This cut would likely lead to increased hospitalizations, involvement in the criminal justice system, and homelessness for these individuals,” the White House report notes.

“We could have programs disappear or not,” Brewster told the commissioners. “We just don’t know. There’s no information we can rely on.”

The White House report also noted that federal funding for vaccinations would be reduced across the state by $195,000, resulting in 2,850 fewer children receiving vaccines for diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, whooping cough, influenza, and Hepatitis B.

Grays Harbor Environmental Health Director Jeff Nelson told the county commissioners that the county may lose funding it uses to monitor beaches in the Westport area and inspecting public works systems. Among other potential cuts across the state, according to the White House report:

• Military reductions, including $124 million cut for the Army at Fort Lewis and $3 million cut for the Air Force at McChord and canceling the aircraft depot maintenance facility at Whidbey Island and a demolition project at Bremerton;

• $1.053 million in funds for meals for seniors would be cut;

• $11.6 million in funding for teachers and schools would be cut;

• $11.2 million in funds for children with disabilities would be cut;

• $4.2 million in funding for environmental funding for clean air and water programs and fish & wildlife programs would be cut

• $661,000 would be cut, which would have been used to help fund job search assistance, referral, and placement, meaning around 24,510 fewer people will get the help and skills they need to find employment.

Grays Harbor College officials are still trying to figure out the impact of the cuts.

At the TRiO Student Support Services, the hours in the office will likely be cut. TRiO Director JEB Thornton says that likely means a cut to his own salary as well as his staff’s salary. The office is federally funded to help 160 mainly low-income students who are unfamiliar with the college system. The office sees many people, where English is the second language or have a documented physical or learning disability.

“It’s looking like our office is going to be closing Fridays,” Thornton said. “We’re looking at a 5 percent cut to our budget. That means a lot of the smaller programs and some veteran programs will be affected.”

Thornton said it also means some loan processing fees will likely increase and some of the smaller grants will be eliminated altogether.

“Officially, we serve 160 students but, in reality, we work with anybody that needs help or needs a hand,” Thornton said. “Anybody who comes in we sit down and talk with. We focus on trying to help someone figure out how to get through the crazy system and that’s hard enough, not even considering the academics and not being able to understand financial aid work or how to transfer to a school.”