Impact of Sequestration on Cape Cod Programs Uncertain

How sequestration will impact Cape-based organizations is unclear, but it is certainly a cause for concern.

Sequestration, the automatic $85 billion budget cuts across most federal government departments and agencies, is set to start today, if Congress fails to agree on a compromise.

Organizations such as the Fisheries Service in Woods Hole, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Marine Biological Laboratory, Falmouth Hospital and the Steamship Authority all rely on federal funding to some degree, but how those organizations will be affected by the cuts is unclear.

Under sequestration, federal agencies such as NOAA, the National Science Foundation, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration will see a 8.2 percent budget cut, while the Department of Defense is subject to a 9.4 percent budget cut.

Susan K. Avery, director of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, sent a memo to employees yesterday outlining her concerns about the situation. WHOI draws funding from all of those sources.

Dr. Avery wrote that WHOI receives most of its funding through the National Science Foundation. The National Science Foundation will continue to fund existing grants, but will award fewer new grants next fiscal year. Subra Suresh, director of NSF, wrote in a statement that there will be approximately 1,000 fewer new research grants next fiscal year. NSF funds approximately 11,000 grants each year

With limited guidance coming from the government, it is difficult to gauge the full impact on WHOI at this time. 

                                                  Susan Avery

“With limited guidance coming from the government, it is difficult to gauge the full impact on WHOI at this time,” Dr. Avery wrote. “However, we will continue to closely monitor the situation and continue our analysis to determine the potential impact on our programs and operations, and whether adjustments to our budget plan will be necessary.”

The budget cuts on each of the agencies that fund WHOI programs will be different, she wrote. “The implications for each of the agencies vary considerably given the structure of their budgets and appropriation bills. [Department of Defense’s] budget is so massive and complex, and its contracts so large with associated employment and economic implications, that there is increasing discussion of granting it limited discretion in prioritizing its funding cuts.”

NOAA has hundreds of individual account lines in its budget, and has very limited discretion on how it can distribute reductions, Dr. Avery wrote.

The Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole receives about 48 percent of its annual $42.6 operating budget from government grants and contracts. But the impact on the MBL is also unclear.

“It is too soon to know how this will affect the MBL, but we are watching the situation closely,” wrote Andrea Early, MBL communications director, in a statement.

Impact on Healthcare

Cape Cod Healthcare, which owns Falmouth Hospital, issued a statement about the sequestration yesterday afternoon. The sequestration includes a 2 percent cut in Medicare for the rest of the fiscal year.

The majority of patients—68 percent—of Cape Cod Healthcare are insured by Medicare and Medicaid. Cuts to Medicare and Medicaid would mean longer wait times for care and less access to treatment, according to the statement.

The Steamship Authority could also be impacted, although to a much lesser degree, said general manager Wayne Lamson. The Steamship Authority was allocated $551,000 in federal funds for the coming fiscal year. Losing that amount will not have a long-term impact on the Steamship Authority, Mr. Lamson said.

According to a statement from the White House, Massachusetts will lose approximately $13.9 million in funding for primary and secondary education, putting around 190 teacher and aide jobs at risk. In addition, about 20,000 fewer students would be served and approximately 60 fewer schools would receive funding.

The cuts could also have impacts on mental health services providers. Massachusetts will lose about $1.7 million in grants to prevent and treat substance abuse, resulting in about 5,200 fewer admissions to substance abuse programs.

According to a statement from the White House, Massachusetts will lose approximately $13.9 million in funding for primary and secondary education, putting around 190 teacher and aide jobs at risk. In addition, about 20,000 fewer students would be served and approximately 60 fewer schools would receive funding.

How that would impact Gosnold, and other programs in Falmouth, is uncertain. “We have not heard anything, but that doesn’t mean anything,” said Gosnold CEO Raymond V. Tamasi. “My guess is that if that happens we will probably see a cessation of any new initiatives.”

In the big picture, a reduction of 5,200 admissions statewide to substance abuse programs is not overwhelming, Mr. Tamasi said. “We had 3,600 admissions to the detox program last year alone,” he said.

But cuts to mental health services and addiction treatment will be felt, he said. “We’re already laboring under significant demand with generally underfunded programs,” he said.

Sherriff's Department to Weather the Storm

The full effects of the cuts at the federal level may not be known for some time, but the Barnstable County Sheriff’s Department expects it will be able to weather the loss of some funding for an inmate re-entry program.

“I believe we could sustain the program,” Sheriff James M. Cummings said of the culinary arts program introduced at the Barnstable County Correctional Facility late last year.

The three-month-old program, which provides inmates with career training in the culinary arts field, was funded by a $434,000 grant from the US Department of Justice. The sequestrations cuts that went into effect today—a series of across-the-board cuts in federal spending totaling $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years—will reduce the grant by about $18,000, the sheriff said.

Sheriff Cummings said the funding cut may force the department to cut or reduce hours for one of the two staff members who run the program, or could affect the department’s partnership with Cape Cod Community College, but the exact course of action had not yet been decided.

The 12-week culinary arts program is part of the department’s re-entry program, which helps inmates find employment and housing after their release from the correctional facility “to help keep them in the community as productive citizens and reduce the likelihood of them returning to jail,” Sheriff Cummings said.

The sheriff said 23 inmates participated in the program’s first session, which is about to wrap up. The next session will be offered later this year.

Sheriff Cummings said the department could also lose some money for its adult education program, which is administered through the Massachusetts Department of Education, “but we don’t know if those cuts will reach us or how much the cuts would be.” 

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