Locally, Sequestration Could Hit Special Needs Programs Hardest
Local school officials keeping an eye on developments.
The Hillsborough school district faces the deadline to submit the 2013-14 budget to the county next week with uncertainty as to whether $85 billion in federal "sequestration" spending cuts will be stopped by Congress before Friday.
And while districts will learn their state aid figures this week after Gov. Chris Christie delivers his fiscal year 2014 budget address Tuesday afternoon, the Friday deadline for avoiding some impacts of sequestration is also weighing on budget plans.
"Obviously, we can use every penny from the federal government we can get, so it is on the radar," Hillsborough Business Administrator Aiman Mahmoud said Monday.
He noted the district doesn't receive a lot of federal aid—about $1.8 million in the district's $130 million budget—but what aid it does receive is specifically for mandated programs, such as special education.
"We're mandated to provide those services to those children, so we would have to find a way to do it within the budget," he said.
The district received $1.4 million in IDEA grant funding from the federal government in the 2012-13 budget, which supports the district's special education programs.
The district also received an additional $320,540 in various grants, mostly aimed at subsidizing programs for low-income families.
Both fund sources could be impacted by the sequestration, if Congress does not act before Friday.
Township officials have less on the line, at least directly, and Township Administrator Anthony Ferrera said the township does not expect to face much impact from any sequestration of funds.
"The only thing that could potentially be impacted would be the FEMA grants for the hurricane," he said, adding the township does not receive any federal funding directly.
Programs which are federally funded but flow through the state could be impacted, but Ferrera said officials have not indicated any concerns about the programs in recent meetings.
At the county level, Freeholder Director Peter Palmer said he thinks it's meaningless to estimate the impact at this point, adding he thinks something will be done "between now and Friday."
"I am sure it would affect us, but I have no idea how much," Palmer said Monday.
Palmer added that he believes something must be done to address federal spending, but he wouldn't be surprised if the issue is pushed off into the future again.
Palmer, a Republican, also said he believes the Obama administration is aiming the cuts at areas that would hurt the most people, so as to create the most public opposition to proposed spending reductions.
"That's the way the game is played," he said.
Rep. Leonard Lance, R-7, said Monday that he would support the across-the-board cuts taking effect on Friday as planned.
"I am among those who support a more laser-like approach toward reducing spending and our national debt that exceeds $16 trillion," he said.
"Republican voted twice, in May and December of last year, to replace the current sequester with smarter, more targeted cuts," he added. "Yet the President opposed those efforts and for his part has failed to put forth serious, credible alternative. I certainly believe the president needs to show more leadership on this issue."
Without action from Congress, the sequester would go into effect automatically on March 1, reducing spending by the state in a number of areas, including education, the environment, health, military and law enforcement, the White House said.
The cuts, according to the Obama administration, could jeopardize 160 teacher and aide jobs in New Jersey, as well as cut funding to 60 schools and 15,000 students.
Funding would be cut to the early childhood education program Head Start, vaccination programs for children and health services for seniors, among other things, and thousands of civilian Department of Defense employees could be furloughed, according to the White House.
The total federal spending cuts under the sequester add up to about $1.2 trillion over the next nine years.
Republicans have accused the president of using the impending cuts for political gain.
Obama's plan asks for increased tax revenues to offset some of the trillion-dollar cuts.