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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Sequestration, Rhode Island and Charlestown

A million here, a million there and pretty soon we’re talking about real money
By Will Collette

We’re just hours away from another one of the bogus emergencies concocted by the Republican members of Congress to, er, do something to make all of us afraid of, er, communists and socialists and other assorted threats.

This new “emergency” is an economic bomb called “sequestration” that is set to go off later this week if the Republicans don’t get an agreement from President Obama to cancel health care reform, gut Medicare and Medicaid, slash Social Security payments, end environmental regulation and who knows what else they want. Oh, and no new taxes on the uber-wealthy. “Sequestration” means automatic cuts applied fairly randomly throughout the federal budget, hitting both defense and non-defense items, but sparing – for now – Medicare and Social Security.

I wish I was joking or lampooning the Republican posture on this subject, but indeed that’s what they want…and they’ve said so on the talk shows and in the news sound bites we’ve been hearing for weeks. Once again, they're holding the economy hostage and demanding we fork over Medicare and Social Security for evisceration 

The White House has published a state-by-state run-down on the impact of the cuts. Read the report for Rhode Island by clicking here. The Washington Post published an excellent interactive, state-by-state run-down – click here.

In Rhode Island, the worst effects will be felt in education, the defense industry, environmental protection and in health and food programs.

Defense spending

Kenyon Industries on Route Two
Aside from looking at General Dynamic’s Electric Boat as one of our area’s largest employers, Rhode Island also counts on military spending in contracts to Raytheon and Textron and dozens of local subcontractors.

Our local Kenyon Industries is hugely dependent on military contracts, as was now defunct but once thriving Bradford Dying. There are also lots of civilian employees working for the Navy in Newport. Sequestration would mean furloughs for 5,000 civilian defense workers and a loss of pay of around $31.5 million. Funding for base operations would be cut by $800,000.

Education

Sequestration would cost Rhode Island roughly 30 regular teaching jobs and 20 more positions teaching children with disabilities, due to cuts of $4.5 million. 200 Head Start kids would be dropped. 640 low-income college students would lose financial aid, either directly or through the loss of 280 work-study jobs.

Around 340 fewer low income students in Rhode Island would receive aid to help them finance the costs of college and around 280 fewer students will get work-study jobs that help them pay for college.

Environment

Rhode Island stands to lose $1.3 million in clean air, clean water and pollution prevention funding and another $359,000 in grants for fish and wildlife programs. I asked Charlie Vandemoer, manager of Rhode Island’s national wildlife refuges, including Ninigret, what he’s been told about effects to his operations. He said the Interior Department is still drawing up its plans and the effects of sequestration on RI programs is still unclear.

In a February 5 memo to all Interior staff, Department management said they would start with cutting contracts, travel and other flexible costs before cutting into the Department’s core mission. Temporary furloughs are on the table, but would be done in accordance with applicable union contracts and with 30 days’ notice.

Health and Food

Rhode Island would lose about $550,000 in funding for vaccinations, disease prevention, help for victims of domestic violation HIV testing, substance abuse treatment and preparedness programs for public health emergencies.

$188,000 would be cut from meals for senior citizens.

Childcare would be eliminated for 100 kids of working families. If the parents lose their jobs for lack of child care, they will have to contend with another $126,000 in cuts to RI Labor and Training’s division that helps the unemployed.

In the short-term, federal agencies will try to make up for the automatic cuts by passing the pain on. They will be slower to pay bills, and will probably delay the renewal of contracts or the issuance of new ones. Grants that colleges, universities and non-profits count on will also be held up while the political drama plays out.

With the United States just starting to work its way out of the worst recession since the Great Depression, is this a good time for massive spending cuts and the resultant job loss? Congressional Republicans seem to think so.

Riding on a crest of false and misleading statements (e.g. that the deficit is rising when in fact it has been falling), this latest in a string of manufactured emergencies has little to do with what’s good for the country but everything to do with the radical ideology that now drives the national Republican Party. 

Interesting, while mainstream Republicans point the finger at Democrats and President Obama, the Tea Party is actually taking credit for causing this chaos.