VIDEO: The sequester: long, slow pain if federal cutbacks kick in
President Barack Obama and congressional leaders will make a final attempt at a pre-deadline compromise at a White House meeting this morning to avoid the automatic sequester cuts, but top lawmakers conceded the prospects were dim for a deal in the short term.
After a two-month sequester delay agreed to in a January tax deal, the cuts are to start kicking in today. There is about $85 billion in cuts scheduled through Sept. 30, the end of the federal fiscal year. In total, the sequester will trim $1.2 trillion in spending across the federal government over the next decade if left untouched.
Local people might not immediately see dramatic effects from the budget cuts, but the impact will be be felt in the coming months in schools and colleges, experts said. It may take longer to get help at federal offices, such as for tax and Social Security information. National parks may be closed on certain days, or for the year. But in many cases, the affects of the cuts still aren’t known.
A look at how residents, places and institutions could be affected by the cuts:
Dutchess County public school districts are facing $931,778 in cuts in federal aid, but local superintendents said they are uncertain how their district will be affected.
Schools’ losses for the 2013-14 academic year range from $18,695 in Millbrook to $205,351 for the Poughkeepsie City School District.
“Any type of reduction in aid is going to have a major impact on us,” said Poughkeepsie Superintendent of Schools Laval Wilson. “It will impact our ability to deliver needed services to children in this community.”
Wappingers Central School District interim Superintendent Marco Pochintesta, whose district faces $202,079 in lost aid, said he is still determining the potential impact.
The Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site at Val-Kill will be closed to visitors on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, beginning in May, if the federal sequester cuts take effect today.
Local National Park Service operations could lose approximately $275,000.
And Top Cottage, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s hilltop retreat, would not be opened to tourists, said Sarah Olson, superintendent of the Roosevelt and Vanderbilt National Historic Sites in Hyde Park.
“We will not be hiring as many seasonable employees as we have in the past,” she said.
Although the spending cuts take effect immediately, Olson said, they won’t be noticeable until May 1, when visiting hours at Val-Kill are usually extended. Instead of being open to visitors from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week during the months of May through October, the site will only be open Thursday through Monday.
Patsy Costello, president of the Hyde Park Historical Society, suggested a solution to keep Val-Kill open throughout the week. “If you have to cut back and you have no choice, possibly getting some volunteers would help,” she said.
Taxpayers looking for refunds or help on filing may find it’s a little slower if the sequester kicks in.
The Internal Revenue Service doesn’t have any word yet.
“We’re a part of the Treasury Department, and we’re not in a position to be commenting,” said Dianne Besunder, a spokeswoman in the New York office.
Outside observers said any staff reductions at IRS will vex some taxpayers, though. David Lingardo, a partner at Taxpert Tax Service in Hopewell Junction, said to file early. He doubted electronic filers would see delay, but thought paper filers may.
“If you send in an amended return, if you have an unique situation dealing with the IRS, or you have to speak with someone at the IRS, that could get delayed,” he said.
But in a memo sent to IRS employees, acting Commissioner Steven T. Miller said furloughs, which are unpaid days off, are likely but will probably be delayed until after the filing season. There are about 80 IRS employees in the Hudson Valley.
The state will receive fewer federal matching funds for wildlife conservation than it was expecting for 2013-14. But thanks to strong firearms sales, that total will almost certainly set a new record.
Accounting for sequestration, the state is estimated to receive $13.6 million toward wildlife conservation, according to Steve Barton, chief of the Division of Administration and Information Management for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program.
That would be a record high under the program. The money comes from federal excise taxes on firearms, ammunition and some archery items.
Earlier estimates had that total as high as $14.4 million.
Funds have gone toward efforts such as the Department of Environmental Conservation’s successful wild turkey restoration project.
“We had no turkeys in New York at all” as recently as the 1950s, said John Yonke, a retired DEC wildlife inspector. “Now we’ve got them all over the place.”
The Dutchess County Airport is one on 238 of the airports on the Federal Aviation Administration’s list of potential closure sites of its air traffic control towers. The FAA said it plans to close over 100 of those facilities.
In a conference call Thursday, U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-Cold Spring, and Ronald Hicks, Dutchess County’s deputy commissioner of strategic planning and economic development, said the closure would cost jobs.
“Job growth in Dutchess County depends on a strong development at the airport,” Maloney said.
Although the airport can operate without a tower, it would do so at reduced efficiency.
Hicks said it would be difficult to attract companies to base their operations out of the airport.
The closure of towers nationwide is in addition to FAA and Transportation Security Administration plans to furlough their workforces, creating longer lines for travelers.
The FAA said furloughs and closures would begin in April.
Among colleges in the region, the cuts will hit the U.S. Military Academy at West Point hardest — $92 million in cuts that will delay construction of a 650-bed dormitory.
At the State University of New York at New Paltz, some of the $1 million for 11 federally-funded projects would be reduced. Also at SUNY New Paltz, students will pay more in fees on loans.
“It’s not clear at this time,” spokeswoman Suzanne Grady said, “how such cuts would be implemented.”
Vassar College is preparing for a 10 percent reduction in the approximately $300,000 in federal funds that support work-study financial aid for students, spokesman Jeff Kosmacher said.
Along with affecting Bard College students who rely on federal loans, spokesman Mark Primoff said cuts could affect federal funding for research, which Bard has received in the past for work in science and the humanities and arts.
The automatic cuts would result in a 2 percent reduction to the amount of federal reimbursement doctors receive for treating Medicare patients.
However, spokesman for Saint Francis Hospital Larry Hughes said the impact could take “weeks or months” to be felt at the local level.
He said cuts to Medicare are increasingly common and called it a “result of the times,” referring to the changing landscape of the health care industry.
He said the hospital anticipates such cuts and budgets for them.
“Yes, the sequester is Friday, but we’re not going to tell people you can’t have surgery or go home or find someplace else to go,” Hughes said. “It’s business as usual until the people in Washington get this thing figured out.”
Though the sequester will not impact Medicare or Medicaid benefits this year, some said future cuts to Medicare are a concern.
“Maybe the first year there won’t be much of an impact, but by the time I retire that benefit could be significantly reduced,” said Todd Pfleger, 49, of Pleasant Valley.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture would furlough food inspectors under a sequestration, which could impact producers of meat, poultry and egg products, according to USDA Secretary Thomas Vilsack, in letter to the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations.
In LaGrangeville, a USDA inspector visits Mountain Products Smokehouse each day that it’s open for business. The company sells smoked meats to local grocery stores, markets and restaurants, said Sarah Gray, a Pawling resident whose father started the company in 1980.
“If they are not available for that day,” she said. “Then we are not allowed to produce.”
While details are still being worked out and the USDA is taking steps to minimize the impact of furloughs, “there is no question sequestration will have an adverse impact on food inspection services,” said department press secretary Courtney Rowe.
The financial damage local governments face if budget cuts go through won’t be clear until later, officials and residents said.
“Right now, we’re okay,” said John Hickman, East Fishkill supervisor. “But a fiscal crisis every few months brings uncertainty, which slows the economy.”
The potential of reduced mortgage and sales tax revenue in a weak economy would hit home eventually, Hickman said.
“We’d see a trickle-down effect,” Wappinger Supervisor Barbara Gutzler said.
While the cuts won’t have an impact on Social Security benefits, warnings of claim-processing and customer-service delays could affect local residents.
To speak to a representative, the wait could be 30 minutes longer at the field offices – including Poughkeepsie’s location, Social Security Administration officials said.
Calling the 800 helpline? The estimated hold time could be 10 minutes, they said. And, oversight efforts to make sure claims are paid accurately and to the right people would be reduced, the agency said.
But the biggest impact could be the wait for initial disability claims, expected to take two weeks longer and nearly a month longer for a disability hearing decision, the administration said.
“The wait can already be quite long,” said Mary Kaye Dolan, director of the Dutchess County Office for the Aging. Seniors who need help meeting basic needs while a claim is pending are advised to call Dolan’s office at 845-486-2555.
For those under 60, the county’s Department of Community and Family Services might be able to help at 845-486-3000.