Although the sequester has already been in effect for over two months, for the most part, it is still too early to determine which services within the City of Davis will be impacted.
“The consensus around here related to the effects of sequestration is primarily uncertainty,” said Kelly Stachowicz, deputy city manager for the City of Davis via email.
On April 30, President Barack Obama held a press conference to address, among other national issues, the budget sequestration, also referred to colloquially as the sequester, which went into effect on March 1.
“It’s damaging our economy. It’s hurting our people. And we need to lift it,” President Obama said during the press conference. “What’s clear is, is that the only way we’re going to lift it is if we do a bigger deal that meets the test of lowering our deficit and growing our economy at the same time. And that’s going to require some compromises on the part of both Democrats and Republicans.”
Acts of sequestration
Sequestration refers to a national fiscal policy of austerity which will implement widespread budget cuts of approximately $1.2 trillion between 2013 and 2021, which went into effect as a result of the Budget Control Act of 2011(BCA).
The BCA was signed into law in August 2011, according to a report issued by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) titled the “Report Pursuant to the Sequestration Transparency Act of 2012.”
The report was issued in January as required by the Sequestration Transparency Act of 2012. The law, signed in August 2012, required the administration to issue a report at the start of the 2013 fiscal year detailing the cuts that would take place if the sequester went into effect.
Under the BCA, the sequester goes into effect if the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, a committee created by the BCA, does not propose a plan to reduce the national deficit by $1.2 trillion and/or Congress does not enact the proposed plan by the end of the fiscal year.
According to the report, “the specter of harmful across-the-board cuts to defense and non-defense programs was intended to drive both sides to compromise. Congress can and should take action to avoid it by passing a comprehensive and balanced deficit reduction package.”
As described in the BCA, if an agreement had not been reached by the end of 2012, Congress would be permitted to increase the debt ceiling by $1.2 trillion. But in turn, the sequester, described in the report as a “blunt and indiscriminate instrument,” would take effect, triggering $1.2 trillion in cuts until 2021.
An agreement to reduce the deficit was not reached in time, causing the sequester to go into effect. Though sequestration was set to begin on Jan. 2, it did not begin until March 1 due to the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012.
“You will recall that even as recently as my campaign, Republicans were saying, ‘sequester is terrible, this is a disaster, it’s going to ruin our military, it’s going to be disastrous for the economy’ — we’ve got to do something about it,” President Obama said. “Then, when it was determined that doing something about it might mean that we close some tax loopholes for the wealthy and the well-connected, suddenly, well, you know what, we’ll take the sequester.”
Projected local impacts
Stachowicz said that in the Davis Police Department, there could potentially be cuts in Office of Justice Programs, which would reduce future grant opportunities.
“We are also developing a research partnership with [UC Davis] Criminology, and it sounds like the cuts could affect the ability to continue this partnership, or at least with any funding,” Stachowicz said. “And if [the] shared Homeland Security Grant Program is deleted or reduced, that would resonate for emergency preparedness/response throughout the county.”
According to Stachowicz, the city may also receive less funding in federal grant programs such as the Community Development Block Grant program (CDBG), a flexible grant to serve the specific needs of individual communities, and the HOME program, which provides grants for the purpose of establishing affordable housing in communities.
“If sequestration cuts result in across-the-board cuts to federal programs, then we could receive less in CDBG/HOME money, giving us less to use for ADA upgrades and social services,” Stachowicz said. “It also sounds like there is a very small portion of transportation funding that might be affected, likely through SACOG [Sacramento Area Council of Governments].”
According to a state-by-state sequester fact sheet issued by the White House detailing projected losses if the sequester were to continue, in 2013, California is projected lose $87.6 million in funding for primary and secondary education and approximately 9,600 fewer low-income students will receive financial aid for college.
The state will lose $12.4 million in environmental funding and 64,000 Department of Defense employees will be furloughed. Public health programs will also be impacted, with the California State Department of Health Services losing approximately $2 million that would normally go toward funding HIV testing.
Cuts in funding, programs
According to the OMB, in 2013 alone, funding will be reduced by approximately 13 percent in defense programs and 9 percent in non-defense programs nationwide such as education, research funding, food safety, aviation security and government programs for children and the elderly.
Ten thousand teacher jobs are at risk. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) will lose funding and the National Science Foundation (NSF) is expected to issue 1,000 fewer research grants, impacting an estimated 12,000 researchers and students.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may be forced to conduct 2,100 fewer food safety inspections at both domestic and foreign food production facilities. According to the OMB factsheet, this is a threat not only to public health, but also to the nation’s economy.
“The public could suffer more foodborne illnesses, such as the recent salmonella in peanut butter outbreak and the E. coli illnesses linked to organic spinach, as well as cost the food and agriculture sector millions of dollars in lost volume,” the OMB factsheet stated.
Air travel was noticeably affected in the months immediately following the sequester, with the April furloughs of air traffic controllers nationwide leading to widespread flight delays and the rapid passage of the Reducing Flight Delays Act of 2013, signed into law on May 1.
As stated in the act received by the Senate on April 30, the purpose is “to provide the Secretary of Transportation with the flexibility to transfer certain funds to prevent reduced operations and staffing of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and for other purposes.”
The act halted the furloughs of FAA employees and allowed 149 low-activity contract towers, which were scheduled to close in June, to remain open for the rest of the fiscal year, according to a press release issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation on May 10.
Government programs for low-income children, families and seniors are not exempt from the sequester. According to the OMB, between March and September, over 600,000 women could be dropped from the USDA’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). WIC provides supplemental foods, nutritional counseling and health screenings and referrals to low-income pregnant and postpartum women and their children under the age of five. According to the WIC website, over half of all infants born in the U.S. receive WIC assistance.
Nutritional assistance programs for the elderly such as Meals on Wheels are expected to serve 4 million fewer meals to seniors in need. Within Yolo County, cuts to Meals on Wheels will definitely occur.
“As of a couple weeks ago, we were aware of a 7 percent reduction to that program,” said Beth Gabor, Yolo County manager of public affairs, via email. “Beyond that, we are generally aware of cuts elsewhere amounting to approximately 5 percent, but nothing as specific as the Meals on Wheels program.”
According to Gabor, it is still too soon to determine the full ramifications the sequester will have on Yolo County and its residents.
“So despite the fact that a lot of members of Congress were suggesting that somehow the sequester was a victory for them and this wouldn’t hurt the economy, what we now know is what I warned earlier, what Jay [Carney, White House Press Secretary] stood up here and warned repeatedly, is happening,” President Obama said. “It’s slowed our growth. It’s resulting in people being thrown out of work. And it’s hurting folks all across the country.”
MEREDITH STURMER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.