How Will Sequestration Cuts Affect Bethlehem?
Friday's possible government spending cuts triggered by sequestration could affect residents of Bethlehem.
The Bethlehem Health Bureau could lose funding for vaccinations, health screenings and for surveillance of communicable diseases such as tuberculosis and bacterial meningitis, if automatic federal "sequestration" spending cuts take effect on Friday.
According to Bethlehem Health Director Kristen Wenrich, sequestration could also threaten HIV testing and women’s health initiatives, such as screenings for breast and cervical cancer and clinics for low-income expectant mothers and children.
Passengers at Lehigh Valley International Airport may have to wait in longer lines for security checks.
And desperate homeowners facing foreclosure might not be able to get help from the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley.
Statewide, cuts would eliminate job search assistance for about 37,000 people and furlough 26,000 Department of Defense civilian contractors, Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat, said Monday. Pennsylvania would also lose $73 million for medical research funding and innovation.
Sequestration cuts won't affect Social Security, Medicaid, Pell grants, veterans benefits and Defense Department spending on wars.
Other impacts in Bethlehem might be less immediate, but still significant if Community Development Block Grants are cut, said Joe Kelly, the city’s director of community and economic development.
Funding for some street paving projects could be lost, park renovations in South Bethlehem could be affected and the Bethlehem Police Department could lose some of its funding for drug surveillance operations, Kelly said.
“It’s a really important funding source for the city,” Kelly said. “It’s the state and the municipalities that get hurt the most by this sequestration program.”
Kelly said the city budgeted conservatively in terms of expected CDBG funds, planning for less than $1 million – the lowest amount in more than 20 years, he said.
“We budgeted in anticipation that Congress wouldn’t get it right,” he said.
Here are other possible local impacts:
- Head Start in the Lehigh Valley could see a cut of up to 8 percent. That could involve as many as 100 children losing places in Head Start as well as a decrease in personnel – 10 teachers and assistant teachers and home visitors, for example, according to Community Services for Children, based in Allentown.
- Lehigh Valley International Airport could lose its air traffic control midnight shift as a result of cuts to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), according to LVIA Executive Director Charles R. Everett Jr. Passengers could experience delays getting through security if federal Transportation Security Administration workers are furloug
- Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley would lose about $125,000 of the $2.5 million the agency receives from federal sources. This cut would result in about 20 fewer homes being weatherized and would cripple the agency's efforts to save families from losing their homes to foreclosure, said Executive Director Alan Jennings.
"The crisis Congress imposed on itself is a reflection of its own inability to find a consensus on how to solve a problem it created. It would be amazing to see Congress, in all its wisdom, acknowledge that its own solution – sequestration – will impose new, untold crises on people in need and their opportunity-starved neighborhoods throughout the nation. This is the real story. The impact on the institutions that serve them is secondary."
President Obama has asked Congress to pass a short-term package to postpone the March 1 sequestration deadline. Republicans are pushing back, threatening to allow sequestration if tax reforms aren’t included in a deal.
U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-17th District) said Monday he is calling on the House Republican leadership "to take action this week on a balanced plan to avert these damaging and mindless spending cuts. “
“To date, Senate and House Democrats have offered fair, balanced plans to avert these damaging cuts. These proposals are built on responsible spending cuts, increased revenues, and growth with jobs. Yet Republicans have refused to work toward compromise on a plan to reduce the deficit because they refuse to ask the wealthy to pay a little more by closing tax loopholes," Cartwright said.
Republicans are floating a plan to force the same amount of cuts but let the Obama administration decide where to make the cuts. Two Lehigh Valley lawmakers -- U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent (R-15th District) and U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey -- told the Morning Call they might be OK with that option.
"There's plenty of time to work out an agreement," said Casey, who is urging both sides to agree on a deal before March 1.
The problem with sequestration cuts, Casey said, is that they are not strategic or targeted based on priorities; they're indiscriminate.
Barb Walters, president of the Lehigh Valley Tea Party, said taxpayers are getting tired of financial crisis in Washington.
"Even when it was settled and Congress gave the President his tax cuts, now he's changing the rules of the game. We're going down the same road all the time. But we're not going to go back to sleep again."
Walters said the issue hasn't been discussed before the membership of the Lehigh Valley Tea Party, which meets monthly in Palmer Township.
"We really haven't talked about it so I don't know the consensus of the board," she said. "But this issue has been discussed for so long that it's getting boring. First, it was the Fiscal Cliff. Now they're bringing the same stuff up all the time without any decisions. Even when we think things are settled, they pop up again. Well, we're tired of the same old song and dance."