Federal sequester could mean furloughs for 1,500 FAA tech center workers, the need to leave the control tower at Atlantic City International Airport unmanned overnight, and cuts to Medicare payouts to South Jersey hospitals.
Besides the impact on federal programs, sequestration, scheduled to go into effect Friday, could also mean cuts to Hurricane Sandy aid funds and grants for cleanup and reconstruction, including compensation for work already done and planned funding for work.
Sequestration was negotiated as part of the debt ceiling crisis in 2011 to trigger across-the-board, non-targeted spending cuts in a variety of areas if a new deal wasn’t reached. President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress have offered a combination of spending cuts and revenue increases, while congressional Republicans have countered with spending cuts but no new revenue.
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan told Congress last week that under Sequestration $3 billion would be cut from the Sandy aid package, “taking away crucial funding for repair and recovery concerning housing, transportation, and other areas.” The amount that would be cut from Community Development Block Grants, he said, could help more than 10,000 homes and small businesses.
U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-9th, said the jolt would be felt immediately in New Jersey, where the first $1.8 billion in Sandy relief money, which is due in April, would be reduced by $100 million; the state could see $3 billion less overall.
In Somers Point, officials authorized emergency appropriations in November to fund repairs to the pier and gazebo at the city beach on Bay Avenue, starting the bidding process early in the expectation that FEMA would reimburse 75 percent of the cost.
Now, said Councilman Sean McGuigan, “If that aid were to be cut, it would have an immediate impact on the budget and an immediate effect on the taxpayers of Somers Point. ... The effect of reduced aid would be felt for years.”
Cuts in that compensation “would have a huge impact on taxpayers,” said Brigantine City Manager Jennifer Blumenthal.
In addition, the list of requests for FEMA mitigation grants also happens to be due on Friday — including 900 requests from property owners for assistance in raising homes to meet proposed new FEMA flood elevation levels.
“It would establish items to reduce the flood risk,” said Blumenthal, including funding to add stormwater pumps, flood gates and to elevate Brigantine Boulevard. “It would be a direct cost onto residents or homeowners in New Jersey, (because) what will end up happenings is after the advisory maps become firm, they’re going to have to pay more in flood insurance.” And if funding for flood risk prevention is cut, “It will directly affect people’s homes being flooded again.”
Margate City Clerk Tom Hiltner was doubtful that there would end up being any cuts to Sandy funding at the municipal level, either with compensation for emergency work — Margate is slated to receive $1.8 million — or future grants.
“Typically, specific, emergency-type funding is not subject to the line-item sequestration you’re talking about,” Hiltner said, adding that he would be “shocked” if any Atlantic County town not usually dependant on federal funding would be affected.
Education initiatives such as Head Start, meanwhile, which operates programs in Atlantic City and Pleasantville, would see services eliminated for about 1,300 children in New Jersey if sequestration goes ahead, the White House estimated.
The New Jersey School Boards Association has received copies of more than 90 local school board resolutions asking Congress to resolve the situation, including from Cape May City, Cape May County Technical, Egg Harbor City, Lower Cape May Regional, Margate, Ocean City, Stafford Township, Upper Deerfield and Upper Township.
NJSBA Assistant Executive Director Frank Belluscio added that the reductions in education funding could total $73 million in New Jersey, including a $33.2 million reduction in federal funding of special education services for students and another $1 million cut in federal funding for preschool special education programming.
For health care, sequestration could mean a 2 percent cut, or almost $94 million, in Medicare payments to hospitals, said New Jersey Hospital Association spokeswoman Kerry McKean Kelly.
Add nursing homes, home health care, in-patient rehabilitation and psychiatric facilities, she said, and the first year’s impact on health care in the state could reach $133 million.
Walt Greiner, CFO of AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, said that such cuts would total $3.5 million to the hospital in 2013.
One of the largest job impacts would be at the FAA, which operates the William J. Hughes Technical Center and staffs the air traffic control tower at the Atlantic City International Airport in Egg Harbor Township, which would have to reduce its total national expenditures by about $627 million for the rest of fiscal 2013.
The FAA, which has about 1,500 employees at the tech center and has about 1,500 more contractors, stated that the furloughs would affect “the vast majority of our 47,000 employees for approximately one day per pay period. All of these changes will be finalized as to scope and details through collaborative discussions with our users and our unions.”
Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-2nd, the House Subcommittee on Aviation chairman, said in a joint statement that "we are disappointed by the Administration creating alarm about sequestration's impact on aviation."
Furloughs would begin in April, and the FAA instructed all employees to come to work on Friday even if sequestration begins. The letter released Friday by Secretary of Transportation and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta added that midnight shifts could be eliminated at the ACY tower.
Kevin Rehmann, spokesman for the South Jersey Transportation Authority, which operates the airport but not the control tower, said that eliminating the overnight shift at the tower would have limited impact on operations, as there are no scheduled flights that depart after midnight.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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