Like a victim tied to buzz saw table in an old movie melodrama, federal, state and local agencies and departments, and a host of businesses and nonprofit organizations are watching with alarm as budget blades churn toward them.
On Friday automatic federal budget cuts known as sequestration go into effect unless Congress votes to halt or delay them. If sequestration takes effect, the cuts slice from 5 to 10 percent from federal funding that feeds a wide range of programs and businesses in Hampton Roads. The cuts affect both defense and non-defense departments, with few exemptions. Defense contractors, military personnel and bases, schools and health services providers are among those directly affected, but sequestration reaches further into the community. Libraries, senior nutrition programs, workforce training, preschool classes also will feel the cuts.
Federal agencies and departments have said they will furlough nonessential employees, delay or eliminate capital projects and maintenance programs and reduce grants to states, localities, businesses, schools and nonprofits to offset the lost funding. Head Start programs will drop children from their rolls. Clinics will provide fewer screenings and immunizations. Nutrition programs not exempt from cuts will deliver fewer meals. Parks will cut back hours and employees. Housing assistance programs will help fewer families.
Daily Press reporters offer a look at how sequestration will hit our communities. The round-up is by no means complete, but it provides a good sense of the reach of the sequestration buzz saw.
Defense spending and employment accounted for slightly more than 46 percent of the region's gross national product in 2011, according to the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission. So when Pentagon officials say sequestration will mean deep cuts due in military operations, it targets a main pillar of the economy in southeastern Virginia.
In broad terms, sequestration will hit the Hampton Roads military community in at least three ways:
•People: Thousands of civilian defense employees will be furloughed for up to 22 days. Temporary employees will be let go.
•Local bases: Cutbacks and maintenance and construction
•Operations: Training exercises, combat deployments and the work needed to maintain proficiency in certain tasks will be curtailed to save money.
The furloughs of civilian defense workers will likely take place over time – one day week for up to 22 weeks, assuming Congress does not act in the meantime. For Hampton Roads, this amounts to a 20-percent pay cut for roughly 40,000 people, the estimated number of civilian defense workers who live in the region, according to the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission.
On local military bases, routine maintenance is being deferred. Joint Base Langley-Eustis spokespeople have said they are focusing on emergency work and putting off other jobs to the extent possible.
Finally, Hampton Roads residents who love "the sound of freedom" may see fewer fighter jets in the skies – both from the Air Force at Langley AFB in Hampton and the Navy at Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach.
Air Force Gen. Mark A. Welsh III said flying hours will drop by 203,000 hours across the service if the budget crisis persists.
The Navy will shut down four of its nine carrier air wings, and some of those aircraft are based at Naval Air Station Oceana.
Local school divisions expect to see millions in cuts in funding specifically allocated for special education and career and technical programs, as well as support for the commonwealth's neediest students.
Newport News is bracing for cuts of up to $1.5 million. Hampton projects cuts of about $760,000 to close to $1.2 million.
Cuts to federal military impact aid, which compensates for lost property tax revenue, further decrease some divisions' general operating budgets both in the current year and fiscal year 2014.
Newport News is expecting to lose $300,000 in aid each year, and Hampton is estimating from $88,500 to $136,500.
Poquoson Superintendent Jennifer Parish said she estimates a total loss of $60,000 next year, and $7,000 in impact aid this year.
York could see the greatest hit in lost impact aid. Chief Financial Officer Dennis Jarrett said he estimates a cut of $557,000 from the division's proposed $124 million 2014 budget.
In Williamsburg-James City County Schools, sequestration would directly affect Title I and Title II funding as well as Individuals with Disabilities Education Act funds, Perkins Grant and career and technical education grants. Scott Burckbuchler, chief finance officer, said it's likely to result in cuts of 7 percent or more to those funds.
A letter from Superintendent Steven Constantino to Congressman Rob Wittman last August explained the potential impacts, providing reduction totals at 7 percent and 9 percent. Title I funding could be cut by as much as $106,301. Cuts to WJCC's $250,000 Title II budget, used for teacher training, could range between $13,882 - $16,196.
He cited a possible loss of $145,663 to $169,940 in federal special education funding.
Colleges and universities
Officials at local colleges and universities are concerned about reductions in federal financial aid and federal grants for needy students, although it appears the Pell Grant is safe at least through 2014.
They also anticipate cuts from the Federal Work Study Program, which provides funding for campus-based employment programs for financial aid recipients. Currently about 90 students at Christopher Newport University participate and 40 at Thomas Nelson Community College. Hampton University director of financial aid Martin Miles said about 225 students participate in work study programs each year. About 245 William and Mary students also participate in work study programs.
Miles also noted sequestration will hit the university's Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants, which provide funding to about 210 students annually.
Officials at Thomas Nelson have additional concerns about losing grant money that funds career training programs and services to students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Hampton University and the College of William and Mary could see a significant hit to research.
Dennis Manos, William and Mary's vice provost for research and graduate professional studies, said cuts to the Department of Defense, the National Science Foundation, NOAA, and the National Institute for Health could significantly impact research at the college.
Science and research
Science and research communities in Hampton Roads are bracing for the full impact of the looming sequester.
NASA headquarters in Washington warned that across-the-board budget cuts would "significantly set back the ambitious space exploration plan" set forth by the president and Congress.
"These damaging cuts would slash roughly 5 percent of the agency's current annual budget during the remaining seven months of the 2013 fiscal year, a loss of about $726 million from the president's budget request," NASA said in a statement.
The result could be further delays in resurrecting human space launches from U.S. soil and developing next-generation space vehicles and other new space technologies, as well as put space-based Earth-observing capabilities in jeopardy, the agency said.
At NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, spokesman Rob Wyman said that, while they're concerned, it's "too preliminary" to definitively assess local impacts.
At Jefferson Lab in Newport News, Chief Operating Officer Mike Dallas said reduction details of "where and by how much" aren't yet clear.
"Our highest priority," Dallas said, "will be to protect our workforce in order to preserve future research and scientific opportunities."
A 2 percent across-the-board cut in Medicare reimbursements for providers is part of the threatened sequester. For local health systems with physician employees, the estimated revenue losses range between $3 and $15 million. A bigger potential hit comes from the ongoing proposed cuts in the Sustainable Growth Rate payments that compound annually. Once again, in 2013, physicians won a last-minute, one-year reprieve.
The Medical Society of Virginia, a physician advocacy group, predicts significant issues around access to care if 2 percent is added on top of the SGR cut next year, according to Rachel Mertz, vice president of communications. At the Hampton-based Patient Advocate Foundation, CEO Nancy Davenport-Ennis has seen a more than 10 percent increase in Medicare patients over the past three years; she said that access to care would continue to shrink with the cuts.
The Virginia Department of Health and Human Services has calculated cutbacks of more than $1.75 million for the AIDS drug assistance program, reducing the numbers served by almost 300 across the state, and it estimated the same number of women would lose screening services for breast cancer and cervical cancer. Under the cuts, 5,500 fewer Virginia children would receive recommended vaccinations, licensing of some surgical centers would be extended to every 30 years instead of every three, and more than $1 million would be taken from senior nutrition programs, according to VDHHS.
On the Peninsula, Bill Massie, CEO of Peninsula Agency on Aging, said, "It would have an impact on all of our programs, but a couple stand out." The Meals on Wheels program would lose more than 2,000 meals and the seniors' meal program would lose an additional 1,000. Home care hours and transportation would also be affected.
For local community service boards, sequestration comes on top of threatened cuts in local funding — at a time when they're serving more people than ever before. Colonial Behavioral Health, which serves four Peninsula communities, receives a little over $700,000 in federal funds, about 10 percent of which are at risk, according to executive director David A. Coe. At the Hampton/Newport News CSB, executive director Chuck Hall anticipated a reduction in substance abuse counselors at local jails as a result and projected that drug treatment courts would be casualties. Cuts could also affect services accessed by federal employees through changes to TRICARE benefits and payments.
On Friday U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and FAA Director Michael Huerta released a letter saying the agency was considering furloughing all 47,000 of its employees because of budget cuts as a result of sequestration.
The FAA was also considering eliminating midnight shifts in over 60 towers across the country and closing 100 air traffic control towers at airports with fewer than 150,000 flight operations or 10,000 commercial operations per year.
The result could be delays of up to 90 minutes at airports in major cities like Chicago, Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Ken Spirito, executive director of the Newport News Williamsburg International Airport, said the cuts will play a role in overall wait times at airports across the country. Spirito said the airport was not in jeopardy of losing its control tower.
The effect of sequestration on roads will not be as immediate, local transportation planners said. Aubrey Layne, a regional member of the Commonwealth Transportation Board, said there would not be any short term consequences as a result of sequestration. But Layne said economic reports showing Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia would be hit hard by the cuts could lead to dire situations in the future in terms of funding roads.
Dwight Farmer, executive director of the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization, said he was not aware of any guidance from the state or federal departments of transportation on any impending cuts as a result of sequestration. "We've received no indication of what, if any, impact it would have in the near term," Farmer said.
Lisa Cipriano, the Newport News budget director, said that the sequestration would have an indirect impact on city coffers. She said they don't have an estimate yet on how much would be cut. But Cipriano said because direct federal funding for cities is a modest amount, there won't be an immediate budget crisis related to the federal cutbacks.
However, she said that revenue from sales and meals taxes would start to slide, as employees in the defense industry started cutting back their spending.
Karen Wilds, executive director of the Newport News Redevelopment and Housing Authority, said public housing agencies would take a 5 percent across-the-board cut under sequestration. Wilds said that follows several years of cutbacks.
"This is just another cut that would be very hard to absorb," Wilds said.
Wilds said that would mean deferred maintenance for public housing buildings and fewer staff to carry out programs. The Authority likely will issue fewer vouchers in the Section 8 federal housing voucher program, cutting back on the 2,100 vouchers it currently grants residents for rental assistance. Wilds said the cuts would not mean revoking vouchers, but, for instance, if a family turns in their voucher because they started to make too much money, the authority would hold onto the voucher rather than granting it to another family on the waiting list.
Hampton, Fort Monroe
The Fort Monroe National Monument is among nearly 400 National Park Service properties that could be impacted by sequestration.
Fort Monroe Superintendent Kirsten Talken-Spaulding referred sequestration comments to park service spokesman Jeffrey Olson.
Olson said he could not address Fort Monroe specifically, although visitors should expect reduced hours and services at all of the National Park Service properties.
"The reductions would limit the National Park Service's ability to sustain a full complement of seasonal employees needed for interpretive programs, maintenance, law enforcement and other visitor services as we are preparing for the busy summer season," he wrote. "Local communities and businesses that rely on recreation to support their livelihoods would face a loss of income from reduced visitation to national parks."
The Army should have enough funding to continue "minimum essential caretaker activities" at Fort Monroe, wrote Dave Foster, an Army spokesman. But civilian personnel, such as employees hired to clean contamination on Fort Monroe may be affected.
"The civilian and contractor personnel who oversee and execute the program could be furloughed starting in April, Foster wrote. "Staffing of documents, permits, policy approvals, contracts, deeds, etc will be delayed as available staff on any given day diminishes due to planned furloughs."
James City County
James City County would suffer directly and indirectly from sequestration.
"Sequester budget targets include several programs the county has taken advantage of in the past, community development block grants for housing and transit capital spending among them," said John McDonald, Financial and Management Services director.
Indirectly, "A number of county residents work for the military and other federal agencies, either as active duty, civilian civil service or as an employee of a contractor," he said. "Residents losing jobs will be the major challenge."
Regional job loss and how it would affect the county's tourism and retail markets is another concern, he added.
York and Poquoson
York County James McReynolds isn't anticipating much of a direct impact from sequestration because federal funding makes up only a small portion of the county's budget. Of the county's $127 million 2013 general fund, or operating budget, only $301,866 is from federal funding.
The county's total 2013 budget of $158 million, which includes all county funds, has about $3.5 million from federal funding, the bulk of which goes toward Head Start and Social Services. McReynolds said losing federal funding for those departments could affect county programs. Because York County's Social Services department also serves Poquoson, any impacts to Social Services funding would impact both localities.
Like York County, Poquoson City Manager Randy Wheeler does not anticipate the city will directly feel much of an impact from sequestration. Of the city's $24 million 2013 operating budget, only $2,500 comes from federal funding. Wheeler said the city could feel second-hand fiscal impacts as a result of cuts to schools and other federal departments. He said that cuts to the military and other federal programs could have a larger economic impact "down the road" on the region.
"We're going to feel it, we're just not quite sure where," he said.
Isle of Wight
Isle of Wight County Schools, which is receiving $3.9 million in federal funding this year, could see a 6-10 percent decrease in federal funds if sequestration kicks in, said school division spokeswoman Kenita Bowers. The cuts have the potential to impact federally funded programs, including Title I, special education and food services.
"If this does occur, local support will be needed to meet the mandated requirements in these programs," Bowers said.
Isle of Wight County is receiving $5.9 million in federal funding this year, according to county budget documents. Although the exact impact is still undermined, sequestration would hit county's social services, school and Section 8 housing programs the hardest, said county spokesman Don Robertson.
Asked how the city wold fare in case of sequestration, Williamsburg City Manager Jack Tuttle said, "We maintain a reverse balance of 35% of the annual General Fund budget as a bulwark against all kinds of natural and man-made calamity, including the federal government," Tuttle said. "Little money comes into the city general budget for operations from the federal government. Most federal funds are used in the public assistance fund to administer federal entitlement programs like Medicaid and SNAP."
The federal government does not contribute much to the city's $31 million operating budget. In Fiscal Year 2013 $629, 200 came from the federal government.
The federal government is a larger contributor to the Williamsburg Redevelopment and Housing Authority, which the city has recently taken over. A portion of the Housing authority's funding comes in the form of grants from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Executives at Newport News Shipbuilding and its parent company have said that because of long-term projects already under contract, the yard is insulated from the more immediate shocks associated with sequestration.
But the company's supply chain could feel the pinch far sooner, and shipyard officials say if suppliers are put out of business the cost of building Navy vessels will increase.
Ship repair yards employ more than 40,000 people in Hampton Roads, with over half of those workers clocking in at the shipyard in Newport News. While the full impact to the region's shipbuilding community is not clear, as smaller and mid-sized yards lose work because of defense cuts and brace for future reductions with sequestration some have notified employees of possible layoffs.
On Wednesday BAE systems has said it may have to dismiss 3,500 workers at facilities across the country, with 1,625 of the people affected working at the company's Norfolk repair yard.
Conservation efforts are also imperiled by sequestration, particularly efforts to study and restore the Chesapeake Bay, its fisheries and its watershed.
The Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) in Gloucester Point receives more than half its annual operating budget through grants and contracts, most of them competitive awards, according to director John Wells. About 80 percent of those awards come from federal sources.
"We are therefore quite concerned about sequestration because we expect the very agencies that support us will be cut by 8 to 10 percent, and know that this will have an impact," Wells said.
Among its federal funding sources are the National Science Foundation, which would see a $551 million cut in its overall budget authority, according to Science magazine, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, whose research, operations and facilities account would drop by $257 million.
To counter any budget reductions, Wells said, VIMS is "diversifying the portfolio" by seeking out new sources of support, including private foundations.
Federal funding to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission has declined for several years, said spokesman John Bull, but the governor has requested additional funds in the state budget now in the General Assembly to make up for that decline.
Virginia is also ramping up its investment in clean water projects by more than $200 million, but sequestration threatens federal resources to provide technical support and cost-share assistance to farmers to reduce pollution and help communities reduce pollution from stormwater, said Ann Jennings, Virginia executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
Public libraries are mainly funded by city and county governments, but they're likely to feel the pinch indirectly.
Sandra Treadway, Virginia's state librarian, sent a message to local public library directors telling them to brace for reductions to funds supporting free online information access. Programs such as Find It Virginia (www.finditva.com) are paid for through the federal Library Services and Technology Act.
In Virginia, sequester would likely mean a $187,000 drop in those funds, Treadway estimated.
John A. Moorman, director of the Williamsburg Regional Library, said the Find It Virginia program is valuable for students working on projects or anyone hoping to research a topic more deeply than a simple Google search.
"Particularly with the smaller communities, this is the only access to databases people get," Moorman said. "The databases are not going to go away, but it will be less of a program."
Izabela M. Cieszynski, director of the Newport News Public Library System, sees potential for more problems in the future. Special library programs, such as the "America's Music" film series currently happening at the Main Street Library, are paid for thorough grants from the Institute for Museum and Library Services.
"If they take a hit, and I believe they are slated for one, the amount of grant funding will be significantly reduced," Cieszynski wrote in a message.
The University of Virginia, Old Dominion and Christopher Newport University do not receive federal funding for athletics. Virginia Tech's and the college of William and Mary's athletic departments only receive federal funds for the work-study program. Virginia Tech last reported about $700 for work-study and William and Mary about $3,000. College athletic departments also do not receive state funding.
High school athletics
Hampton City Schools and York County School Division do not receive federal funding for athletic programs, and should not be affected sequestration.
The impact of sequestration on high school athletics in other districts is unknown, according to school officials.
In Newport News, NNPS spokeswoman Michelle Morgan Price, said, "Federal money is spread throughout the budget, but it's not necessarily earmarked for specific things. There are some exceptions. For instance, some federal money goes to support special education. But generally speaking, I don't think (sequestration) would have a huge impact on our athletics program."
The school board would have to evaluate which programs could be affected should sequestration occur.
"Our philosophy is that if a student feels connected to the school, he or she will be more involved and make better grades," Price said. "Part of that is athletics. The superintendent has set a goal to have all students have some activity to participate in that is tied to school, such as clubs, organizations, and athletics."
Stenette Byrd Jr., principal of Smithfield High on potential budget cuts to athletics: "I hope not, but it's impossible to predict at this moment."
"If we take a 5 percent cut, which is the number people are throwing around, it would mean a loss of $160,000," said Betsy Overkamp-Smith, Director for Public Relations and Engagement at Williamsburg-James City County Schools. "Instruction material and professional development are typically the first two places you look at when you make mid-year cuts.
"But it's really hard to say now that any department will be affected, including athletics, since we don't know what the hit will be."
Head Start programs serving Peninsula communities are bracing for sequestration cuts that will affect both the children they serve and their employees. Nancy Null, the director of the Office of Human Affairs Head Start programs in Newport News, Hampton and Southside cities, said sequestration would mean reducing enrollment by about 10 percent.
In Newport News and Hampton 50 children would be dropped, while Williamsburg and James City would cut about 15 children Across the state, more than 1,440 children would be dropped from programs as the state adjusts to a projected loss of $9 million in federal funding.
Head Start programs serve children up to age 5 from low-income families, providing a range of programs and support, from school readiness to health, social and nutrition. Established in 1965 as part of President Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty, most programs serve 3-5 year olds, but Early Head Start reaches down and serves children as young as six weeks. Eligibility is based on income level and the programs are offered at no cost to the families.
In addition to reducing enrollment, Null said her program would need to cut about 30 jobs in Newport News, Hampton and the Southside cities. Statewide, more than 300 jobs would be eliminated if sequestration takes effect.
When the defense cog is broken, the entire Hampton Roads wheel stops turning, says Ray Mattes, president of the Retail Alliance of Hampton Roads.
"If you cut defense, you're going to cut retail sales," he says.
The threat of job loss and furloughs will decrease the amount of disposable income flowing through the region, and that will place a significant burden on retailers.
"And anything that affects retail is going to affect transportation funding," he adds. "If we can't finance our transportation system, it's going to affect the entire region. We can't allow ourselves to be fragmented. Regionally, we have to come up with a solution."
Staff writers Hugh Lessig, Prue Salasky, Joe Lawlor, Robert Brauchle, Nicole Paitsel, Tamara Detrick, Amanda Kerr, Allison T. Williams, Sarah Pawlowski, Michael Shapiro, Austin Bogues, Dave Johnson, Marty O'Brien, Dave Fairbank, Norm Wood and Virginia Gazette writers Cortney Langley, Susan Robertson and Steve Vaughan contributed to this story.
Concerned about the sequester?
Here are the names and phone numbers of the U.S. Senators and Representatives for Daily Press communities. Their websites include a page for sending email.
Rep. Rob Wittman, District 1
2454 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Rep. Scott Rigell, District 2
418 Cannon HOB
Washington, DC 20515
Rep. Robert C. "Bobby" Scott, District 3
1201 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Rep. Randy Forbes, District 4
2135 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515
(202) 225 – 6365
Sen. Mark Warner
475 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington D.C. 20510
Sen. Tim Kaine
B40C Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington D.C. 20510
(202) 224-4024Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times