Utah's less fortunate most likely to feel sting of sequester
Six weeks into sequestration, the March 1 law mandating across-the-board federal budget cuts has succeeded in breeding widespread confusion, fear and distrust among those monitoring its impact, particularly on the most vulnerable sectors of society: those who are elderly, disabled or living below the poverty line.
"There are a lot of people who have great need who are being victimized by this whole sequestration question," said Tim Funk, who heads up the Community Housing Advocacy Project for the nonprofit Crossroads Urban Center in Salt Lake City.
"I've never been in a situation where, everywhere you turn, in terms of low-income programs and programs for disabled and seniors, you see something that will hurt them and impair them."
Utah Department of Health officials expect reductions in funding for vaccinating uninsured children, for the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition-supplement program and, by 2014, for Meals on Wheels, which delivers food to seniors, said Salt Lake County spokeswoman Michelle Schmitt. Much of the sequester cuts could be borne administratively, Schmitt said, but that would still mean slowing delivery of services.
A recent report from the Washington, D.C.-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities predicted that if Congress fails to reverse the sequester, "low-income families will experience a significant loss of rental assistance, and more individuals and families will likely experience lengthy periods of housing instability and homelessness, compromising their children's chances to develop into healthy and productive adults."
Homelessness expected to grow • Matt Minkevitch, executive director of The Road Home the state's largest homeless shelter, in downtown Salt Lake City expects sequestration to stretch its services even further, but the broad nature of the cuts makes it difficult to predict their impact.
Linda Martinez Brown, 64, moved into the shelter on Jan. 24 to care for her five grandsons while their mother serves a jail sentence. According to Road Home Case Manager Downy Bowles, Brown had been living in a subsidized one-bedroom senior apartment but gave it up when her grandsons, ages 4 to 13, had no caretaker.
In the past, federal "rapid rehousing" funds were among the tools used to move families into available rental units. At this point, Minkevitch is uncertain how sequestration will impact that capability, but if demand continues to rise while funding sources shrink, longer shelter stays could result.
The Road Home functions through collaborative relationships at every level of government, Minkevitch said, and federal funding including Community Development Block Grants underpin programs The Road Home taps to serve the homeless population.
"Sequestration affects each of those funding sources," Minkevitch said. "We have yet to ascertain to what degree, how much and the timing. We know this will be a delayed impact and time released."
Federal funding a key support in stretching local dollars and attracting private funding has been shrinking for several years, Minkevitch added.
In October, The Road Home opened its Midvale overflow shelter early to accommodate a rising tide of homeless families. On April 1, the Midvale facility shut its doors and relocated about two dozen families to the downtown shelter, which houses about 600 people on any given night, Minkevitch said. He expects the sequester's impact to start unfolding by midyear, forcing families to remain in the shelter longer.
"We are going to continue to serve and keep our eyes on the ball. There's an element of faith involved in that," Minkevitch said, "faith in the community's ability to solve problems."
Head Start absorbs hit • Head Start programs that operate 79 classrooms throughout Salt Lake and Tooele counties recently responded to a 5 percent decrease in federal funding by eliminating $660,000 in staff pay through the end of 2013.
Executive Director Erin Trenbeath-Murray recently posted its plan on the Salt Lake Community Action Program (CAP) Head Start website: All 12-month staff will be furloughed for one week in June, and the school year will end five days early. Employees who work nine, 10 and 11 months out of the year will also be impacted, with all staff giving up 14 days of pay.The agency also axed its end-of-year bonus program, reduced training and technical assistance this year and suspended its retirement-contribution plan as of Jan. 1, 2014.
These actions will enable the agency to avoid layoffs and maintain its enrollment of 2,300 children this year.
Nationwide, sequestration is expected to impact 70,000 Head Start students, and 500 Utah youngsters could have been at-risk if staff had not shouldered the cuts.
"Many programs around the country are closing classrooms," said Joni Clark, community-partnerships manager for Salt Lake CAP Head Start. If sequestration spreads into next year, Clark said they expect to see their waiting list of 1,300 grow even longer. The program primarily serves children ages 3 to 5 from families living well below the federal poverty level.
Clark touted Head Start's success: 91 percent of kids who left the program last year were ready for kindergarten socially, emotionally and academically.
"Head Start is nothing like a day care," Clark said. "Some think that's what we do, but we're an academically rigorous, comprehensive education program."
Housing havoc • Kerry Bate, director of the Salt Lake County Housing Authority, has worked with state and county rental-assistance programs for 30 years but has "never seen anything like this."
"Everyone agrees that sequestration is jumping off the diving board when there's no water in the pool," Bate said.
The rental-assistance programs he oversees are being cut by more than $1 million, a dent that could affect 112 families. The pain would deepen over time, Bate said, because future funding hinges on numbers of clients previously served.
"If we drop by 112 families due to a funding shortfall," Bate said, "we'd have that as a permanent cut going forward."
A rental reserve provides a cushion this year, Bate said, "but if sequestration continues, we won't be enrolling new families, and current voucher holders could be at risk."
The wait for a Section 8 voucher a subsidy tied to the individual and usable at any rental unit is now about five years, Bate said.
The Salt Lake County Housing Authority also could take a $500,000 hit for staffing and public-housing maintenance.
"The biggest risk to rental property is deferred maintenance," Bate said of the properties his agency owns and oversees in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. To make matters worse, sequestration follows previous cuts that left his agency down five staff positions.
"Our current staff has its largest workload ever" averaging more than 400 cases per worker, Bate said.
"We're confident we'll be OK through June," Bate said, " but we're not going to be able to maintain the kind of program integrity we're proud of if we don't get relief from this."
Reporters Mike Gorrell and Christopher Smart contributed to this story.
Predictions for Utah
Education K-12 • $6.3 million less, affecting 90 teacher and aide jobs along with 9,000 fewer students
Special education • $5.7 million less, affecting 70 teachers, aides and staff
Work-study jobs • Student aid disappears for 530 college students, 80 fewer work-study jobs
Head Start • 400 fewer children could participate
Environmental protections • $1.3 million less for clean air and water, $847,000 less for fish and wildlife
Military readiness • About 15,000 civilian Department of Defense employees could be furloughed, $16 million decrease for Army base operations and $2 million less for Air Force operations
Law enforcement-public safety • $119,000 cut to Justice Assistance Grants, some of which fund drug treatment and crime victims
Job-search assistance • Assistance and training cut by $525,000, affecting 16,430 people
Child care • 200 fewer low-income children can be accommodated, hampering parents' ability to work
Childhood vaccines • $84,000 less, affecting 1,230 children
Public health • $264,000 less for emergency response to disease and natural disasters, $46,000 less for HIV testing
STOP Violence Against Women Program • Up to $59,000 less to aid victims of domestic violence
Nutrition Assistance for Seniors • $347,000 less for senior meals
Projected Salt Lake budgetcutbacks
Community Block Development Grants • Down from $4.4 million in 2010-11 to $2.9 million in 2013-14
Down-payment assistance (HOME) • Down from $1.4 million in 2010-11 to $757,680 in 2013-14