Sequester would be disastrous for tribes

By Alysa Landry
Special to the Times

WASHINGTON, D.C., February 28, 2013

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T ribes may lose $130 million in federal funding if Congress doesn't prevent a series of automatic, across-the-board spending cuts from going into effect Friday.

According to White House data, federal cuts scheduled to begin March 1 would slash tribal funding for vital services, including health care, human services, law enforcement, schools and economic development.

Known as the "sequester", the cuts would shave $85 billion in federal spending in the next seven months and $1.2 trillion during the next decade. Although Washington is seeking to reduce spending and cut the $16 trillion national debt, the sequester is "bad policy" and was not designed to be administered, according to statements from White House personnel.

"These cuts were never intended to be policy, but as a way to force Congress to act," said Amy Brundage, deputy press secretary for the economy, during a media conference call Monday.

President Barack Obama has an alternate plan to reduce spending in a more balanced way, Brundage said. The president has proposed closing tax loopholes that benefit the wealthy - a sticking point for many Republicans in Congress.

"The choice is very clear for Republicans," Brundage said. They can either "ask more from the wealthy and big corporations or let these cuts take place and cost jobs."

Economists are predicting another national recession if the cuts continue unchecked. The sequester means 13 percent of funding will be cut from defense programs and 9 percent from non-defense programs, affecting "the full range of what the government does," said Jason Furman, principal deputy director of the National Economic Council.

"These cuts would have macroeconomic consequences," he said. "This is hundreds of thousands of job cuts."

The bulk of the job loss would come from the private sector, Furman said. This includes an estimated $900 million in cuts to loan guarantees for small businesses.

The sequester also means cuts to emergency funding, unemployment benefits, food and water safety, education, vaccinations and child care. As many as 70,000 children will be booted from Head Start programs and 10,000 teacher jobs would be at risk, according to White House data.

Other cuts are being calculated in human costs: 2,100 fewer food inspections, 12,000 cuts to research jobs, 373,000 untreated adults and children with serious mental or emotional health issues, and 100,000 evictions from homeless shelters.

Nationwide, the Indian Health Service and tribal hospitals and clinics will be forced to provide 3,000 fewer inpatient admissions and more than 800,000 fewer outpatient visits, according to the data.

If Congress fails to act, some of the cuts will be immediate, while others will take place in the coming seven months.

"There's no good way to do this," Furman said. "What we're not able to do, and what no one thought we should do, is cut 85 billion dollars in this type of way, with no notice, done in a concentrated, seven-month period of time."

The cuts will be most damaging for the middle class and populations that depend heavily on federal funding, like tribes.

On the Navajo Nation, the sequester could mean as much as $23 million cut from the budget, said Erny Zah, director of communications for the Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President.

The cuts would reduce the tribe's budget from $170 million to $147 million, Zah said. The Nation's other source of funding - taxes and revenues - would remain intact.

"The federal money funds programs in the Department of Health, almost our entire Public Safety Division and social services," Zah said. "It's not looking good. If the sequester does happen, we've got to start thinking about how we're going to cut costs or make up the difference."

The White House on Sunday released 52 fact sheets detailing the effects a sequester would have on all states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

According to the data, Arizona will lose almost $18 million in education funding, putting 240 jobs at risk. Head Start services will be eliminated for 1,000 children. The state will lose $52.5 million in military pay, $2.1 million in environmental funding, $300,000 in public safety funds and $1.9 million for substance abuse programs.

New Mexico will lose $6 million in education funding, putting 80 jobs at risk. Head Start services would be eliminated for 500 children. The state will lose $42 million in military pay, $1.3 million in environmental funding, $135,000 in public safety funds and $450,000 in substance abuse grants.

In Utah, education funding will be cut by $6.3 million, putting 90 jobs at risk. Head Start services will be eliminated for 400 children. The state will lose $83.5 million in military pay, $1.3 million in environmental funding, $119,000 in public safety funds and $850,000 for substance abuse programs.

Although the sequester begins Friday, Congress can halt or reverse cuts at any time. A compromise would allow cuts to be less disruptive, Obama told a group of governors on Monday.

"Here's the thing - these cuts do not have to happen," Obama said. "Congress can turn them off any time with just a little bit of compromise."

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