Sequestration socks Jeffco

Glenn Wallace
Posted

The most vulnerable in Jefferson County, including the homeless and the developmentally disabled, will be among those most affected by automatic spending cuts, known as sequestration.

Jefferson County Community Development Director Kat Douglas said programs offering rental assistance and homeless shelters face immediate cuts. She said the county would be cut between $100,000 to $150,000 for 2013.

“The people who are hurting the most are those who need those services,” Douglas said.

Douglas said once the Department of Housing and Urban Development decide on how to apply the budget cuts, they will hand off the reduced funding to states, who then in turn will have to decide how to divvy up the reduced funding to counties and cities.

“And so far, nobody has any answers for us,” said Douglas.

The only news so far is not encouraging. The state will fund Jeffco at 50 percent of its usual allocation, and hopefully increase that amount once HUD has decided what it is doing. Douglas said the county usually signs grant contracts with area nonprofits at the start of March, but have had to reduce those contracts in half, or not offer them at all this year. A similar air of uncertainty surrounds education funding. According to the White House, sequestration will result in $16.5 million less money for Colorado students this year. Roughly half of that money would have gone to Title One programs — targeted at lower income students who qualify for free or reduced lunches. The other half would be for children with disabilities.

“These are populations we care deeply about and we want to do everything we can to give them a bright future. They’re hard cuts to make,” said Heather Beck, chief academic officer with Jeffco Public Schools.

The Jeffco school district enrolls about 10 percent of the state’s children.

“But I don’t know if the state is just going to hand down a straight percentage of cuts to us or not,” Beck said.

The new academic fiscal cycle begins July 1, which should be when the cuts go into effect, though Beck said she had not received confirmation of that. She says even if the cuts do come down, the district has enough reserve funding budgeted to forestall any reduction to teaching staff or services for one year. Beck said that if sequestration is not reversed, the district would be looking at $9 million in less revenue over the next five years.

“That will mean teacher loss, program loss,” Beck said.

Across the state, sequestration cuts will hit many sectors. An estimated 12,000 Department of Defense employees will face furloughs. Army and Air Force spending will be reduced by $65,000. Program funding for children, seniors, veterans and law enforcement will also be effected.

Beck says for now at least, all that can be done is to wait and see, and keep fingers crossed.

“We’re sticking on the optimistic side of things and hope Washington can figure these things out.”

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