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Missouri Could Lose $95M from Sequestration

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) – Missouri could lose $95 million in federal funding for schools and state programs and even more in defense spending if government-wide spending cuts take effect later this week, according to a group that assesses how policy decisions affect states.

The automatic budget cuts, or so-called sequestration, will take effect Friday barring a break in the standoff between President Barack Obama and the House Republican leadership over a plan to reduce the national debt. Obama wants to do it through spending cuts and tax increases, while Republicans want to avoid tax hikes and do it only by cutting spending.

The White House and some state officials involved in Missouri’s budget process warned Tuesday that the cuts would have real-life consequences, such as children being dropped from early education programs. Others, however, suggested the cuts could be absorbed with little noticeable effect to the general public.

As it stands, Missouri is projected to lose more than $95 million in federal funding for various programs during 2013 federal fiscal year, according to figures compiled by the Federal Funds Information for the States, which tracks the effects of policy decision on states. The figures were provided to The Associated Press by the state budget office.

The White House said Missouri military bases also could lose $70 million for operations, and about 8,000 civilian defense employees could lose around $40 million in pay as a result of furloughs.

More than one-fourth of Missouri’s federal funding cuts for programs would fall on education, including a $12 million loss to schools serving low-income students and an additional $12 million cut to special education programs.

“The impact would be on kids that face the most significant challenges in school,” said Brent Ghan, a spokesman for the Missouri School Boards’ Association. “Those are both areas where the cost of educating students is greater than average.”

The White House distributed information indicating that nearly 300 teachers, aides and school staff in Missouri could have their jobs put at risk. But it’s unclear if layoffs actually would occur, because those decisions are made by local school boards that also receive state and local tax revenues. Though it varies by district, federal dollars typically account for about 10 percent of a school system’s budget, Ghan said.

“I’m not saying that the reduction in federal funding for K-through-12 won’t be challenging for some schools, but it is a tiny proportion of overall funding for education,” said Linda Luebbering, the budget director in Gov. Jay Nixon’s Office of Administration.

Among other things, the federal cuts could trim $5 million from a $94 million Missouri allotment for the Women, Infants and Children nutritional program, $7.4 million from a $140 million allotment for Head Start preschool programs and $2.4 million from a nearly $45 million federal allotment for subsidized child care.

The White House said the cuts could eliminate Head Start services for about 1,200 children in Missouri, and up to 700 children whose parents hold lower-income jobs could lose child care subsidies.

State Rep. Jeremy LaFaver, a former lobbyist for child care issues, said the vast majority of federal aid goes to larger child care facilities that have well-developed curriculums.

“If the sequestration cuts go through, the child care centers that really provide a quality early learning environment will be hurt the most, sending folks into less-quality, unlicensed, unregulated child care facilities,” said LaFaver, D-Kansas City, a member of the House Budget Committee.

But House Budget Committee Chairman Rick Stream said he doubts some of the dire predictions will actually occur if the cuts go through.

“The White House is putting out information that, for lack of a better term, it’s in some cases scare mongering,” said Stream, R-Kirkwood, who retired in 2006 after a nearly 30-year career in the U.S. Department of Defense.

Stream said he spent much of his career purchasing helicopters and later was a budget project manager for Army logistics. Stream said federal supervisors commonly engaged in what he called “gold watching” asserting that “if we have to take this cut, we’ll lose the gold watch, the most valuable possession we have” and then later cutting other items from the bottom of a priority list.

Stream is not too concerned if Congress doesn’t come up with an alternative to the scheduled government-wide cuts.

“If this is the only way to rein in spending, then let it happen,” he said.
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Follow David A. Lieb on twitter @DavidALieb

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