Santa Clara County could lose millions of dollars if Congress doesn’t quit its bickering and steer clear of the impending sequester.
Not since 1985 has the threat of sequestration come this close, the White House says. Sequestration is a big word for slash-and-burn cuts to federal services, which inevitably trickle down to state and local governments. The White House on Sunday released a breakdown of how the cuts would affect each state.
Threatened state losses look terrifying—and they’re meant to be, so federal lawmakers resolve their differences. California would lose $87.6 million in public school funding, $14.3 million in environmental and wildlife protection, $3.3 million for job training, $1.1 million for children’s vaccines, $12.4 million for substance abuse treatment and $5.4 million for senior nutrition services. That’s the cliff notes of a very long list of cuts that could affect nearly every demographic in some way.
How much the county stands to lose remains to be seen. County spokeswoman Gwen Mitchell says it’s too soon to tell. If Congress fails to meet its Friday deadline, the sequestration would take effect on March 27. If that happens, the federal agencies that allocate block grants to each state would cut accordingly, and so on until local agencies feel the pinch.
Right now, the county could lose $1.6 million in state block grants for social services, Mitchell says. Probably more, but it’s really a waiting game until further notice.
“There’s so much uncertainty around this,” Mitchell says. “What’s really difficult to gauge right now is exactly which programs it will affect. We’re talking about block grants, we’d lose some of those. We just have to see what gets cut on a federal level, then what the state has left to hand down.”
Senior nutrition services could take a big hit locally, she adds.
Protections for crises like this are out there, however. Even when Congress delays approving a budget, they do pass resolutions to continue temporary funding, which generally bridges the gap. Buffers for MediCal and MediCare funding remain in place, regardless of what Congress decides, says Mitchell.
So, would county residents notice any immediate cuts as a result of a sequester?
“Who knows?” Mitchell says. “This is the first time, to my knowledge, there have been across-the-board cuts like this. We’ll see.”
President Obama has repeatedly warned against inaction, saying the sequester could have a dire impact on the economy. However, the rhetoric has started to cool, as the White House has acknowledged that cuts would gradually go into effect over the course of weeks and maybe months.