As the national debate over debt and deficit deepened in 2011, the White House moved to force Congress’s hand on spending reduction. The sequester idea was floated as a way to bring Republicans and Democrats to the table for cost-cutting compromise to avoid automatic, across-the-board cuts.
In 2011, unable to come to an agreement on what to cut and when, Congress passed the Budget Control Act requiring agreement on a plan to reduce the deficit ― the amount the federal government goes into the red annually ― by $4 trillion, including $2.5 trillion in cuts already in place. That meant that more than $1 trillion in cuts over 10 years had to be identified and agreed upon. If an agreement could not be reached, $1 trillion in automatic, arbitrary cuts across the federal government would be triggered in 2013.
Thus was born the specter of the sequester ― the cuts forced by the agreement.
Despite two years of often bitter partisan wrangling, or perhaps because if it, no agreement was reached. What had been intended as a move to force the hand of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction ― the so-called super committee ― turned into a deadline that could not be met.
The sequester was to hit Jan. 1, 2013. However, fears that the end of the Bush tax cuts and a payroll tax cut combined with sequestration would certainly kill the weak recovery and spark another recession resulted in parliamentary moves that reset the deadline for March 1.
On that day sequestration went from concept to reality on the contemporary American scene.
The cuts instituted on March 1 were evenly split between domestic and defense programs. Over the fiscal years 2013-2021 slightly more than $1 trillion will be cut from line items including Medicare, weapons purchasing and base construction.
Mandatory programs like Medicaid and Social Security and welfare programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and food stamps were shielded from the sequester. Other programs like aid for Women, Infants and Children and the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program are subject to the required cuts.
In 2013 $42.7 billion (7.9 percent) will be cut from the defense budget, $28.7 billion (5.3 percent) in domestic discretionary funding will be cut, Medicare will take a $9.9 (2 percent) haircut and another $4 billion in cuts to defense and nondefense programs will be made.
The civilian employees at Fort Leavenworth will feel the budget cuts, having already been notified of 11-day furloughs scheduled each Friday from July until the end of the federal fiscal year in September, a total of 88 hours of unpaid time off.
But the effects of the federal budget cuts that formerly both sides had agreed were onerous and potentially damaging will have far-reaching effects on the community here, beyond even the impact it will have on the more than 2,000 employees on Fort Leavenworth.
Page 2 of 3 - As the sequester continues in 2014 cuts rise from the 2013 level of $85.4 billion to $109.3 billion a year. No programs are eliminated but the size ― and cost ― of programs will be reduced.
Jeanette Collier, executive director of the Northeast Kansas Community Action Program, which serves nine counties in northeast Kansas, including Leavenworth County, said the sequester will affect their wide range of programs aimed at helping lower-income residents. Rose Sigmund is the director of NEK-CAP's Head Start programs, which provide early-childhood education to children in the NEK-CAP communities, including Leavenworth.
With its board of directors, Sigmund said NEK-CAP developed a plan to accommodate the 5.27 percent, or $222,000, reduction in funding as a result of the sequestration. But it did not come without impacts to Head Start operations.
“We tried to do it with a fine-cutting knife, if you will,” Sigmund said.
NEK-CAP ended Head Start classes everywhere a week early, canceled the summer Head Start program at one facility and cut one full-time and one part-time child and family advocate position.
All told, Sigmund said the cuts will affect all 402 students and 85 to 90 staff members within the Head Start programs in northeast Kansas, but at least 25 students ― those at the center that will not have a summer program ― are directly affected, without either the classroom time or the breakfast and luncthime meals provided as a part of the program.
“For some of those kids,” she said, “that's huge.”
Because 98 percent of NEK-CAP's funding is from federal sources, sequester will have perhaps a proportionally larger impact there than at other similar agencies, Collier said.
Leavenworth Superintendent Kelly Crane said school officials have seen a 10 percent cut in federal Title I funding, which is provided based on the number of students from low income families.
Crane said the cut amounts to a $113,768 decrease for the Leavenworth public school district. This has resulted in a reduction of instructional coaches and facilities who work with teachers to implement strategies in classrooms.
Other local programs that utilize federal dollars have not reported significant cutbacks. Paul Kramer, assistant city manager who runs Leavenworth's Housing Authority, said he anticipated some sort of reduction to the Community Development Block Grants that Leavenworth receives from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as an “entitlement community.” Those grants provide pools for the city's first-time homebuyer assistance program, the emergency home repairs program and for contributions to several area non-profit agencies like the Alliance Against Family Violence and Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas.
“We actually got a substantial increase in our CDBG funds,” Kramer said, from $294,746 in 2012 to $325,370 in fiscal year 2013.
That's because in the previous year, the federal government withheld some amount of the grants for a more widespread project, Kramer said. But the city's full amount will return July 1.
Page 3 of 3 - Kramer said the city will see a reduction in one funding source ― Section 8 ― but only on the administrative side, where an employee has been moved to another city department after about $30,000 in cuts.
“There's no impact to the public,” he said, in terms of housing voucher availability.
But what cuts have been enacted have caused others to decry the sequester process. U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-2ndDist., said she did not oppose budget cuts themselves, but did not support the method by which they were enacted.
“Arbitrary, across-the-board spending cuts are not a sensible solution to solving our country’s long-term budget problems, but a result of a lack of leadership,” she said. “The sequester was supposed to be a 3-percent reduction, which is completely reasonable and necessary for a federal government with so much debt.
“However," she continued, "when you take certain programs off the table, and then the administration further restricts flexibility for agencies to prioritize spending, you end up with much more than a 3-percent cut to programs that are vital to our nation’s well-being and security. Suddenly, a simple 3-percent cut leads to a 10-percent cut at places like Fort Leavenworth and key people start getting furloughed. That is just wrong.”