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Uneasy Silence Follows Sequester

Uneasy Silence Follows Sequester

A month into the sequester, those who rely on federal funding are still waiting for word on how deep the cuts will be.

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TWIN FALLS • Four weeks ago, when the federal sequester officially began, Jim Fields knew his office would face budget cuts but he didn’t know where or how much.

Today, the director of the College of Southern Idaho’s Office on Aging hasn’t learned much more.

“I thought I would know something by now,” he said.

Fields’ office relies on federal funding to pay for multiple programs like meal deliveries to senior citizens, gas for volunteers that deliver meals or drive seniors to appointments and individuals who sign up to be foster grandparents.

Since March 1, Fields said he has heard several figures approximating how much his office would lose, but he hasn’t heard anything final yet. The last estimate he was given called for a 4.9 percent reduction in the overall budget.

“We’re still waiting if we have any flexibility on where we can apply the budget reduction,” he said.

Fields’ continued uncertainty isn’t uncommon among agencies and program still unsure of the effects of the federal sequester.

For South Central Community Action Partnership Executive Director Ken Robinette said he is still in the dark.

The agency had to shut down its heating assistance program much earlier than normal this year due to budget constraints and he is worried that further budget reductions could shorten the program’s length.

“Nothing is confirmed,” he said. “The latest we heard was that all six Community Actions in Idaho would see an overall $1.9 million loss in federal funding. But Congress is still negotiating, so we don’t know.”

Idaho’s military could also be impacted by the federal sequester. Up to 800 of Idaho’s military men and women face potential furloughs, said Idaho National Guard spokesman Col. Tim Marsano.

“I’m very interested in following this, because I’m included in the possible furloughs,” he said.

How many furlough days and when it will kick in is still unknown, Marsano said. Already, the Department of Defense has announced it expects the amount of furlough days to drop from 22 to 14.

“We need 30 days notice before the furloughs can start,” he said. “We haven’t gotten that yet.”

Before the sequester started, White House officials claimed Idaho would lose $1.2 million in clean air and water programs.

Regional officials with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are still waiting to see how much will be cut or if staff will face furloughs, said Hanady Kader, EPA spokeswoman.

“We’re still waiting,” she said. “The budget decisions come from our D.C. office and we haven’t gotten any final word yet, maybe in a couple weeks.”

One funding cut that has been announced is the Federal Aviation Administration’s decision to cut funding to 149 contract towers. This decision will close four towers in Idaho, including Hailey’s Friedman Memorial Airport.

For the Twin Falls Airport, it’s still unclear how the sequester might impact the regional airport, said Manager Bill Carberry.

“It’s a fluid situation; we certainly hope we’ll survive if there are cuts,” he said.

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"It's been great," Marracco said. "We were definitely surprised by the amount of people lined up at the start, but it was pretty smooth getting everyone through the doors. Of course it is an entirely new staff, it's a learning curve but everyone is doing such a great job."

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