The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

February 27, 2013

Federal cuts could affect education, transportation, food prices

By Roger McKinney
news@joplinglobe.com

— The federal budget cuts known as sequestration, scheduled to start Friday, may shut down some food processing operations nationwide, including those in Carthage and Noel, resulting in higher food prices.

Federal programs at schools, including special education and Title I, benefiting children from low-income families, could be cut.

The cuts could result in fewer programs and services at George Washington Carver National Monument and Fort Scott National Historic Site.

They would affect operations at the Joplin Regional Airport, closing the air traffic control tower and resulting the layoffs of its six air traffic controllers, said Steve Stockam, airport manager.

Federal programs in schools would be reduced.

For Missouri, the federal cuts could total $95 million, according to The Associated Press.

The White House this week released information sheets describing impacts in Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma.

The list includes cuts of nearly $12 million to Missouri schools, nearly $5 million to Oklahoma schools and $5.5 million to Kansas schools.

According to the White House information, programs that provide meals to seniors would be cut by $419,000 in Missouri, $209,000 in Kansas and $298,000 in Oklahoma.



POLITICIANS

Some in Congress say the outcome won’t be so bad. Among them is U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Kan., who spoke at a Republican House leadership gathering Tuesday.

“These cuts amount to about 2 1/2 percent of the federal budget,” Jenkins said. “Find me an American family, a hardworking taxpayer, that hasn’t already cut over 2 percent out of their budgets at home without cutting essential things.”

She said the government will collect and spend more money this year than it did last year even with the sequester.

“The president needs to come back from his campaign-style tour, stop scaring people and work with us to address the issue of the debt and the deficits, get the economy moving and people back to work,” Jenkins said.

U.S. Rep. Billy Long, R-Mo., hit many of the same points in a statement emailed to the Globe.

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., speaking at a gathering of Republican Senate leaders on Tuesday, didn’t downplay the cuts, but he said they were unnecessary.

“The option now for the president is: Do you want to work for a different way for these same savings to be achieved?” Blunt said. “That’s very doable. There’s a lot of willingness to look for ways to have targeted spending cuts instead of across-the-board spending cuts.”

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., in a phone interview, said she doesn’t think the cuts can be avoided.

“In the next moth, we have to fund the government for the rest of the year,” McCaskill said. “We have the ability to pass an appropriation bill that makes these cuts in a more measured way over a longer period. Before these cuts have a really negative impact on Missouri, we can have a way of targeting them in a less negative way.”

She said that when the immediate crisis has passed, Congress also should consider closing tax loopholes to produce additional revenue.

“We all need to take responsibility for this, and we all need to be involved in fixing it,” McCaskill said. “People are sick to death of the blame game. If we don’t work together and fix this, it’s going to hurt our economy. People are going to feel it.”

McCaskill said the sequestration was considered by both parties to be so extreme that it would bring everyone to the table for compromise, but that idea was mistaken.



SENIORS

The Missouri Association of Area Agencies on Aging issued an information sheet related to the sequestration.

“This will be devastating to the aging network,” it reads. “HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testified before Congress that if the sequester goes into effect, 17 million older adults would no longer receive home-delivered meals.”

Stan Heater, executive director of the Joplin Area Agency on Aging, said the federal cuts would result in an 8.5 percent reduction in funding, affecting all of its programs, including reducing the number of meals it serves by about 12,000.

Heater said the cuts probably wouldn’t affect seniors who are served lunch at the Joplin Senior Center at 22nd Street and Jackson Avenue, but they would affect meal deliveries. He said a waiting list for delivered meals would grow longer.

“It seems like the two parties have their own agendas and they don’t understand the word compromise anymore,” Heater said.

Jim and Dorothy Stever, of Joplin, were having lunch at the senior center on Wednesday. They said they don’t think the cuts would affect them directly, but they are upset about the situation.

“I think both parties ought to be ashamed of themselves,” Dorothy Stever said. “I think they should come together and make some kind of budget that is acceptable.”

“It’s a shame,” said Jim Stever.

Don Janssen, of Joplin, also was having lunch at the senior center. He said the country is being run by “dad-blamed idiots,” but the cuts don’t bother him.

“How are we going to get out of debt if we don’t have cuts?” he said. “When you don’t have the money, you’ve got to do something.”

Kay Smither, of Joplin, at the senior center, said she was concerned to hear that federal food inspectors would be cut.



FOOD

The loss of food inspectors would at least temporarily stop operations at food processing plants, including a Butterball plant in Carthage and a Tyson plant in Noel. Corporate spokesmen for both companies would say only that they were monitoring the situation. The Tyson spokesman also referred questions the American Meat Institute, a trade association.

“Our plants can’t run without inspectors,” said AMI spokesman Eric Mittenthal. “If they’re furloughed, that’s a major concern.”

AMI also released an information sheet.

“Furloughing inspectors for up to 15 days will devastate meat and poultry companies, the more than 500,000 employees who work for them, the more than one million livestock and poultry producers who raise cattle, hogs, chickens and turkeys, as well as consumers, who could face product shortages and higher prices,” reads the AMI information. It says the U.S. Agriculture Department estimates lost production totaling $10 billion and lost wages of $400 million.

Blunt and Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., have urged Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to spare the food inspectors from the cuts.



EDUCATION

The White House information estimates the loss to education programs at nearly $12 in Missouri, $5.5 million in Kansas and nearly $5 million Oklahoma.

Ron Lankford, Missouri deputy education commissioner for finance, said the Missouri figure could approach $20 million. The cut would be around 5.3 percent of federal programs.

Lankford said those programs include special education and Title I, which is targeted toward children from low-income families.

“A significant number of kids will be impacted” from the Title I cuts, Lankford said. “It’s probably likely that some staffing will be cut. It could impact the availability of personnel.”

He said the number of children served by Title I programs may be reduced, but that’s not an option for special education.

“In Title I, fewer kids may be served, or the level of service may be reduced,” Lankford said.

C.J. Huff, superintendent of Joplin schools, said the cuts to the school district may total nearly 6 percent of federal programs, or about $250,000 to $275,000.

“These are programs that serve the neediest students,” he said.

He said it’s likely that the district will need to cut back on staffing or the number of hours. He said the district must continue to remain accountable while receiving less money.

“We’re planning for the worst-case scenario,” Huff said.

The White House information sheet related to Head Start and Early Head Start notes that 1,200 children in Missouri, 500 children in Kansas and 800 children in Oklahoma would be eliminated from the programs.

Jeff Goldammer, regional director of the Head Start programs, said he hasn’t received any word about cuts from his official sources.

“We’re running under normal operations and preparing for all possibilities,” he said.



TRANSPORTATION, PARKS

Stockam, the Joplin Regional Airport manager, said the cuts may result in the closure of the air traffic control tower and the loss of six air traffic controllers.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood last week referenced the Joplin tower as one that would close.

“It will change our operations and how pilots use the airport,” Stockam said. He said it would place more responsibility and liability with pilots.

“It doesn’t make the facility unsafe, but it does reduce the level of safety in operating the facility,” he said.

The National Park Service also would be affected, including George Washington Carver National Monument near Diamond and Fort Scott National Historic Site in Kansas.

Jim Heaney, superintendent at the Carver monument, said the park’s budget would be cut by about $72,000. He said a guard position, a secretary position and a maintenance position would remain vacant. He said frequent visitors may see a difference.

“We’ll have reduced visitor services like guided tours and fewer park programs, both on-site and off-site,” Heaney said.

Betty Boyko, superintendent at the Fort Scott National Historic Site, said vacant positions would remain vacant and the number of seasonal employees the park hires would be reduced.

She said there would be fewer guided tours and evening events for the public.