Suffolk prepares for sequestration hit

Published 10:37 pm Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Sequestration’s impact on Virginia this year would cut $14 million from primary and secondary education, risking the positions of 190 teachers and teacher’s aides, according to the White House.

A briefing released Sunday on how automatic federal budget cuts could impact the commonwealth also outlined $13.9 million less for educating children with disabilities, which would affect about 170 teachers and other school district staff.

Suffolk Public Schools’ finance director, Wendy Forsman, who went into greater detail at a recent School Board meeting, stated that sequestration would mean fewer teachers and cuts to staff development for teachers serving children “who need the most assistance.” “Supplemental programs after school would certainly change or happen less often,” she added.

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For college students, the White House briefing says, about 2,120 fewer with low incomes would receive federal college aid, while 840 fewer would get work-study jobs that help with college costs.

Pre-kindergarten education would also suffer a blow, with about 1,000 fewer Virginia children having access to Head Start and Early Head Start.

Forsman stated that the operating fund would be unable to pick up lost supplemental federal funds, “given the major reductions to state and local funding that has occurred over the last five years.”

“Most families do not realize that services that have been provided for years under these entitlement programs would be affected,” she continued.

“The impact would be mostly in federal programs offered to children and parents after school and Saturdays, professional development of teachers, and in number of staff assisting children who are eligible for the federal program support.”

One of the biggest local sequestration impacts would be to the military and its contractors. The White House says that about 90,000 Virginia-based civilian Department of Defense employees would be furloughed, and Air Force funding would be cut by $8 million and Army funding by about $146 million.

Maintenance would be canceled on 11 ships home-ported in Norfolk, and the deferment of four projects would hit Virginia Beach’s Oceana, Norfolk, and Dahlgren in Northern Virginia, while other “modernization and demolition projects” would be delayed.

Many federal government contractors in North Suffolk would be expected to feel the effects of tighter defense budgets. Last year, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Bob Stevens stated that Lockheed Martin believes sequestration “is the single greatest challenge facing our company and our industry.”

Suffolk businessman William Blair, of construction firm The Blair Brothers, noted that military personnel who frequent Harbour View eateries, particularly those in Harbour View East, adjacent to Joint and Coalition and Warfighting, are already “seen less and less” since downsizing two years ago. “It’s going to be quite a slam, I believe,” he said.

Other Virginia impacts outlined by the White House include the loss of about $276,000 in Justice Assistance Grants, which support “law enforcement, prosecution and courts, crime prevention and education, corrections and community corrections, drug treatment and enforcement, and crime victim and witness initiatives.”

About 18,390 fewer Virginians would receive employment assistance with the loss of $343,000 in job search assistance, referral and placement funding, while the parents of up to 400 disadvantaged and vulnerable children would find holding down a job more difficult with the loss of access to child care, the White House estimated.

On the health care front, a cut of about $241,000 to vaccination funding would see around 3,530 fewer children protected against diseases and illnesses like measles, mumps, rubella, whooping cough, influenza and Hepatitis B.

The commonwealth would receive $764,000 less toward enhancing its ability to respond to public health threats like infectious diseases, hurricanes and nuclear incidents, and $2 million less in grants to prevent substance abuse, resulting in about 1,700 fewer admissions to programs, according to the White House report.

About 8,400 fewer HIV tests would be performed with the Virginia State Department of Health losing funding of about $337,000.

Virginia could also lose $172,000 in domestic violence funding, affecting 700 victims, and $1.2 million would be cut from meals for seniors.

Environmental restoration and protection programs would also be hit, with the loss of $3 million in funding for clean water and air quality and $826,000 in grants for fish and wildlife protection.

Blair said that a “domino effect” would hit local businesses as Washington cuts state grants and the commonwealth, in turn, passes less largesse on to localities.

Businesses like his that rely on municipal work would see fewer contracts for new projects, while maintenance orders, such as to fix potholes, should be less affected, he said.

“When their budgets are clobbered real hard, they have to pick and choose the most efficient jobs,” Blair said. “It’s going to have a domino effect right down to the fast-food restaurant.”

His business has made plans for dealing with sequestration, he said, but “we can’t cut back long-time employees.”

“Thank goodness there are a lot of potholes,” he added.

Longtime Suffolk real estate agent Billy Chorey said sequestration’s psychological effects would create hesitancy among homebuyers and sellers.

“Whether it’s real or not, here in Suffolk it’s real from a psychological standpoint if nothing else,” he said.