When sequestration — the $1.2 trillion of Obama-proposed federal funding cuts that were supposed to scare Congress into playing nice — first hit, it wasn’t really a shock to the system. The sky did not fall, the earth did not open up, and breadlines did not immediately form around city blocks. The cuts came in waves, and many are still to come, but enough time has passed that they are starting to batter our economic shores. In Santa Barbara County, it doesn’t help that the two largest employers, Vandenberg Air Force Base and UC Santa Barbara, are public entities. The Santa Barbara Independent reached out to several agencies to gauge the effects of the sequestration. Following is a list of significant but by no means comprehensive impacts.
• The City of Santa Barbara must reduce the number of families receiving Section 8 vouchers by 107 by March. There is enough attrition that no families need to have their vouchers revoked, but the waiting list, already 5,000-strong, will continue to grow. Without any relief, the Housing Authority’s reserves will run out in two years.
• Vandenberg Air Force Base began to implement furloughs on July 8, and they are scheduled to last until September 21, affecting almost all of the base’s 1,137 civilian employees. According to Public Affairs Chief Robin Jackson, these include “secretaries, engineers, biologists, firefighters, planners, accountants, lawyers, managers, architects, geologists, electricians, and plumbers.” Among that number are 57 firefighters and the Hot Shot firefighting crew. The U.S. Forest Service has not cut firefighting capacity at all in the Los Padres National Forest, but that means it has had to shrink its recreational staff by attrition.
• Research funding at the University of California is down about 14 percent for the fiscal year, and that number holds for UCSB, according to Vice Chancellor for Research Michael Witherell. “Many research programs are fully funded, but the success rate for proposals is down,” he said. “And the cuts seem to be distributed fairly uniformly across all federal agencies, from NSF [National Science Foundation] and NIH [National Institutes of Health] to DOD [Department of Defense].” Furthermore, he said, agencies are deferring some of their funding.
• The County Public Health Department is still waiting to see what the next federal budget holds, but it expects cuts to the Women, Infants, and Children portion of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more commonly referred to as food stamps. The department is not sure yet about the local portion of a proposed reduction of $39.1 million for Maternal, Child and Adolescent Health programs in California. Due to a combination of legislative changes and sequestration, Public Health will take a 28 percent hit in funding for one HIV care program, a 5 percent cut for another, and a 9 percent cut for HIV prevention.
• The Community Action Commission (CAC) — which administers Head Start and Early Head Start preschools for foster children, the homeless, and families in poverty — has had to reduce the number of families served by 53 and lay off seven employees due to a $562,000 reduction. In Santa Barbara, it shut down its operation at Harding elementary school. The pain will be shared by the young and old, as the CAC must reduce its $554,000 Senior Nutrition — or “Meals on Wheels” — budget by $27,000.
As of now, it does not seem as if Congress is near any sort of budget deal. In recent days, bills that would have reduced sequester cuts and increased them failed in the House and Senate, respectively. Representative Lois Capps, whose old district included the Port of Hueneme, which has become bogged down by cuts to Customs and Border Patrol, has written to the Speaker protesting the sequestration. She supports a plan that would reduce the deficit more than sequestration does, but would include revenue increases along with spending cuts.