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Sequestration Could Affect the Coast Guard

Many facilities associated with the Coast Guard in New London including its housing authority and schools are concerned about possible effect of automatic budget cuts.

 

Some New London entities—including United States Coast Guard facilities and New London Housing Authority—would see a direct impact if the automatic spending cuts under sequestration go into effect on Friday.

The sequestration plan calls for a $1.2 trillion reduction in federal spending over the next decade if Congress and the White House fail to come to a consensus on addressing the federal deficit by the end of the month. The White House recently sent out figures detailing the impact on each state, warning of “severe impacts” nationwide in areas such as education, law enforcement, and economic development.

These figures project an approximately $8.7 million reduction in federal funding for primary and secondary schools in Connecticut as well as about $6.3 million in funding for education of children with disabilities. Estimates also include an elimination in Head Start and Early Start services for about 500 children statewide, a furlough of about 3,000 defense workers, and a loss of about $840,000 in funds for substance abuse treatment.

Coast Guard

Lt. Paul D. Rhynard of the Coast Guard Office of Public Affairs said he is being cautious in discussing what effect sequestration might have on the service. However, he said the Coast Guard does not plan to furlough any civilian employees if sequestration takes place.

The Coast Guard has a significant presence in New London. In addition to hosting the Coast Guard Academy, the city includes the service’s research and development arm as well as the International Ice Patrol and Station New London.

“Though the reductions will have impacts across all Coast Guard activities, we won't speculate on how these reductions might impact specific units, programs or activities,” Rhynard said. “Our approach is to allocate funds and resources to prevent disruptions and preserve the most essential operations. That said, maintaining workforce training and operational proficiency is a major priority in our planning process.”

Rhynard said decisions regarding where sequestration cuts would occur have been made based on the goals of preserving the Coast Guard’s ability to perform its most critical missions and maintain operational efficiency; avoiding civilian employee furloughs; avoiding “irrevocable impacts” on the service; and mitigating any disruption to maintenance activities, workforce training, and acquisitions projects.

According to Bloomberg Businessweek, the service is anticipating $439 million in cuts. The report says the service’s budget increased 23 percent between 2006 and 2012, but that the cut would be the second budget reduction for the service in three years.

The report states that funding for the Coast Guard declined by $500 million between 2010 and 2012. Coast Guard officials have also expressed their frustration with the service’s aging cutter fleet, whose ships have experienced increasing non-operational time due to mechanical problems or other issues.  

In remarks to the Senate Committee on Appropriations on Feb. 14, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said several Coast Guard operations would be affected by sequestration. Napolitano said the service would have to curtail surface and air operations by 25 percent, leading to reduced effectiveness of operations and a deferral of maintenance and training.

Napolitano also said the Coast Guard would have to reduce its patrols in the 3.4 million square mile U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone, impacting the service’s effectiveness in areas such as fisheries enforcement.

New London Housing Authority

Sue Shontell, executive director of the New London Housing Authority, said sequestration would have an effect on the agency’s Section 8 program. NLHA receives about $900,000 in federal funding. It contracts out the Section 8 program, which has 113 vouchers for rental assistance in apartments across the city.

Shontell said that under the program, NLHA pays landlords to make up the difference between the monthly rent and what a tenant can pay. She said sequestration would cut Section 8 funding down to 94 percent of its current level, leaving NLHA to make up the difference. In addition, Shontell said the funding for the administration of the program would be cut to 69 percent of its current level, with NLHA having to make up this difference as well.

“I couldn’t do it, honestly,” said Shontell.

Shontell said the prospect of sequestration is a frightening one for NLHA. She said the goal of the agency is to keep its employees on the payroll and provide housing for those in need.

“We’re supposed to be providing decent safe and sanitary housing ,and we’re not getting from help Congress and in turn from HUD [the Department of Housing and Urban Development] because they don’t have any money,” said Shontell.

New London Public Schools

Superintendent Nicholas Fischer of the New London Public Schools said about 15 cents on the dollar in the district come from federal funding. The major sources of funds are the Title I funds, which are based on poverty levels and academic achievement, and IDEA funding for special education.

“Those are two multimillion sources of funds,” said Fischer. “What we don’t know is how much of the cost of sequestration would be allocated back to New London.”

Fischer said there would be a “fairly significant impact on local operations” if there are significant cuts to those sources of funding. Fischer said New London relies on these sources more than neighboring districts and is thus more susceptible to cuts in federal funding, which play a role in salaries and other budget items.

“I don’t want people going out there and panicking based on what we don’t know right now,” Fischer cautioned. “Obviously we’re concerned about the potential impact but I really don’t want to start speculating.”

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