By Ilyas Choudry
Texas could suffer cuts in health, human services to civilian defense furloughs
The clock is ticking and now tickedâ€¦ Congress faced a sequestration deadline â€“ on March 1 â€“ when across-the-board spending cuts was to go into effect throughout government. The cuts will total $1.2 trillion over a 10-year period. These automatic 10 percent cuts, which some are calling severe, could affect everything from lines at airports to devastating jobs losses.
About one-fifth of federal grant funding to the states will be subject to sequester. The effects could be significant in Texas, according to figures from the Pew Research Center, which estimates that federal grants that represent 8 percent of the Texas state budget could be subject to sequester. Additionally, federal spending on procurement, salaries and wages that make up 5.4 percent of the state budget also would be subject to sequester, as would federal defense spending in Texas on procurement, salaries and wages that make up 4.1 percent of the state budget. Non-defense federal spending that makes up 1.3 percent of Texasâ€™ state budget would also come under the sequestration knife.
According to the Pew Center, a portion of federal funding to the states for health, education, income security and social services, transportation, community and regional development, employment, training and energy, environment and natural resources would be cut nationwide.
Education, income security and social services would likely take the biggest hits. Estimates are that the nationâ€™s Head Start programs, Title I funds for poor students and state grants for special education could lose about $2.7 billion over 10 years. Job losses across the country as a result could mean the loss of up to 15,000 teachers and assistants, plus some 10,000 special education worker. Some school districts in Texas report layoffs would be imminent, but others â€“ such as the Fort Worth ISD that anticipates a sequestration loss of close to $2.8 billion in federal funds â€“ do not anticipate teacher layoffs. On the other hand, the Austin ISD and Irving ISD both said they would likely suffer job losses and loss of ability to serve the needs of students with disabilities. Austin ISD alone would lose approximately $4.8 million.
Higher education would not be spared either. Most of the cuts to higher ed would be in research and financial aid. The University of Texas System predicts that research cuts could be anywhere from $114 million to $123 million per year across all the UT System institutions for the 10-year period. Financial aid cuts could total between $1.3 and $1.4 million per year.
Defense workers in Texas also would be impacted by sequestration. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta this week addressed how civilians working at various American military installations would be affected. â€œShould sequestration occur and continue for a substantial period, DOD will be forced to place the vast majority of its civilian work force on administrative furlough,â€ said Panetta.
Texas and Virginia are the states that would be most impacted by the loss of civilian jobs due to sequestration. Affected would be some 800,000 Department of Defense civilian workers throughout the world. Fort Bliss in El Paso, one of the Armyâ€™s two largest military installations in Texas, would see 11,000 civilian workers affected.
Airports, too, would feel the effects. Cuts at the Federal Aviation Administration would total about $600 million. The end result â€“ delays on takeoffs and fewer overall flights. That could be a fiasco with spring break travel looming. Many FAA employees, including security scanners and air traffic controllers, would likely be subject to furloughs. And the effects would be far-reaching, particularly for major airports in Texas such as DFW and Houston Intercontinental. Fewer flights mean fewer cars paying to park in lots and fewer travelers spending money with concessions â€“ all of which affect the local economy, from loss of revenue for private businesses providing services to local governments suffering reduced tax revenues as a result of declines in sales.
According to the interim report of the House Committee on Texas Response to Federal Sequestration, the Health and Human Services Commission, Department of Family and Protective Services, Department of Aging and Disability Services, Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services and Department of State Health Services would be the most impacted by sequestration cuts in health and human services. Nearly 60 programs affecting approximately 327,000 clients would be impacted. Family violence and prevention services and the Supplemental Nutrition Program are among the programs that would be subject to cuts.
The Texas Workforce Commission (TWC), which receives 85 percent of its funding from the federal government, would see some $50 million of that funding subject to sequestration. Services such as employment counseling, worker training and unemployment insurance could face cuts. The largest reduction – $20 million â€“ would be in the TWCâ€™s Child Care Services.
Texas agency officials are keeping an eye on Washington, D.C., over the next seven days, hoping for some kind of congressional agreement that will keep the millions of dollars of cuts in the state from happening.