Agencies here assess what the coming months might bring
BY KAREN SHUEY, and BRIAN WALLACE, Staff Writers
The world has not ended, the economy did not collapse and our leaders still aren't working together.
That's what we know for sure this morning.
For all the urgency and blame exchanged over historic across-the-board federal budget cuts that took effect Friday, the reality is they won't have a sudden impact on Lancaster County residents.
But all the hype wasn't for nothing.
The sequestration did trigger $85 billion in automatic and indiscriminate cuts to defense and domestic spending.
A number of local agencies that receive federal funding are starting to see estimates, but officials are uncertain how much of the cuts will trickle down to the county level.
Some of those organizations getting preliminary figures about the financial impact here include Community Action Program of Lancaster County.
Craig Lehman, a Lancaster County commissioner, said the effects could be disastrous for local residents who depend on certain services.
The cuts eventually might dry up the funds for some. The families of 200 children wouldn't be able to afford child care, 120 kids wouldn't be able to attend Head Start and 1,000 mothers would lose their status in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children.
The financial impact on the county's schools remains largely unknown, although officials agree the cuts likely would not kick in until this fall.
The reductions also would affect mainly programs that serve special-education and low-income students.
School District of Lancaster estimates its funding could be cut by 5.3 percent, or about $500,000 in 2013-14, spokeswoman Kelly Burkholder said. Penn Manor could lose out on as much as $140,000, Superintendent Michael Leichliter said.
But officials at other districts said they don't have enough information to estimate the financial hit their budgets could take.
Earlier this week, the White House said Pennsylvania would lose about $47 million in education funding, but the state Department of Education could not confirm that figure Friday.
According to spokesman Tim Eller, the department was awaiting more information from the feds.
The inability of Congress to resolve the funding issue is frustrating to local school officials, who also are waiting to see how much state funding they'll receive next year.
Gov. Tom Corbett has proposed increases for 2013-14, but they're tied to the passage of controversial pension reform and liquor privatization bills.
"Depending on what comes out of the state legislative session, we could see a difference of nearly $750,000 in our subsidies next year," Gerald Huesken, Conestoga Valley superintendent, said in an email.
"The sequester is just another element of the great uncertainty in planning next year's budget."
At SouthEast Lancaster Health Services, CEO Hilda Shirk said the cuts will result in a loss of about $53,000.
Shirk said the reduction represents only a small portion of the federally subsidized clinic's $10 million budget, but it will need to be replaced somehow.
"The $1.35 million we get from the federal government makes it possible to help the uninsured, and we're not going to cut back those services," she said.
The clinic will seek revenue from other sources, something Shirk has become accustomed to doing.
"A lot of organizations and programs have had to find ways to carry on with less," she said.
Scott Martin knows what that's like.
The chairman of the Lancaster County commissioners said officials at the county and state levels have learned over the years that they can't depend on help from the federal government.
Even so, he said, many local agencies will miss the grant opportunities available to them.
Programs that dole out funding as an intermediary -- such as public rent assistance, farm loans and food programs -- will see immediate cuts. It won't be good news for the Housing and Urban Development's Community Development Block Grant program, senior citizen agencies or EPA clean water grants.
U.S. Rep. Joe Pitts said he knows just as much as the public when it comes to actual figures.
"It's too early to tell exactly what will get cut, and Congress could still get a deal done to give the White House more control over what goes and what stays," the Kennett Square Republican, who represents the 16th District, said.
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey conceded that a compromise to stop the sequestration before the full effects can be felt may be reached during or after scheduled budget discussions later this month.
"With the pressure to get a deal done on the budget, we might be able to fix this before it gets bad," the Scranton Democrat said.
Congress will begin the regular budget resolution process next week, he said, and must come to an agreement by March 27 to avoid a government shutdown.
The success or failure of those sequester and budget discussions will depend on the leadership of the president, said U.S. Rep. Pat Meehan.
The Drexel Hill Republican, who represents the 7th District, said party politics must be set aside.
"There's a lot of frustration among members of Congress right now, and we need the president to stop campaigning and start leading," he said.
"It's too early to tell exactly what will get cut, and Congress could still get a deal done to give the White House more control over what goes and what stays."
U.S. Rep. Joe Pitts