Peninsula agencies brace for possible sequestration cuts
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Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News
Peninsula Housing Authority Executive Director Pam Tietz, shown at the agency's headquarters in Port Angeles, said she will deal with whatever emerges from the federal budget cuts.

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — It will be business as usual this week for hundreds of housing and low-income assistance program recipients on the North Olympic Peninsula despite the $85 billion in forced spending cuts on the federal level that kicked in Friday at midnight.

But, unless there is an eventual budget agreement in Congress, federal cuts — implemented by President Barack Obama's signing of an order on Friday night — could mean a loss of funding for the Peninsula later this year.

The two chief administrators of the Peninsula Housing Authority and Olympic Community Action Programs — both of which serve Clallam and Jefferson counties — said last week they do not expect their clients or staffs will feel any immediate impact from the mandatory expenditure reductions, known as sequestration.

“Immediately, it will not mean anything for us, but it would be foolish for us to not start thinking about it,” OlyCAP Executive Director Geoff Crump said.

Sequestration affects OlyCAP's 2013 budget, which the agency does not start until the fiscal year beginning Sept. 1.

“At OlyCAP, we are not taking any action until we get direction from our federal partners, so it's a waiting game, unfortunately,” Crump said.

“While we will be making plans to address the cuts, if the situation resolves itself before September, it won't affect us.”

OlyCAP served 7,012 in both counties in 2012, Crump said.

The cuts would affect the Head Start and Early Head Start programs, which serves a combined 178 clients in Clallam and Jefferson counties, and some nutrition home-care programs run by the agency, Crump said.

“As of today, we've had zero other communication about what sequestration might mean to us,” Crump said Friday.

Crump said that without an eventual federal budget agreement, Head Start and Early Head Start would lose 5.3 percent of funding.

“It is [the federal government's] intention to try to absorb the 5.3 percent at their level in terms of staffing, travel, etcetera,” he said.

If the cuts are imposed, in Clallam and Jefferson counties it would mean seven lost slots for Head Start and three lost slots for Early Head Start.

“That does not mean we will walk in and withdraw any children from the program,” Crump said.

“If it got to that point, we would make the cuts through attrition.

Peninsula Housing Authority Executive Director Pam Tietz said that funding from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development would be reduced if the cuts take full effect.

HUD's 2013 budget year ends Dec. 31.

The Housing Authority serves 900 households in Clallam County and 200 in Jefferson County.

HUD funds the Housing Choice Voucher Program and Housing Authority public housing and covers prorated administrative costs related to the voucher program.

The voucher program, which has a long waiting list and has not taken new applications for several months, would lose about $156,000, Tietz said.

The voucher program serves 580 clients in both counties — 440 of whom are in Clallam County, she added.

“The waiting list is so long, it will take years to reach those people,” Tietz said.

There are almost 200 households on the waiting list in Jefferson County and at least that many in Clallam, she said.

The program can continue to serve existing clients — and will continue not to take new applicants, Tietz said.

“Hundreds of people continue not to be served,” she added.

The housing agency also would have to cover $40,000-$45,000 more in administrative fees if the budget cuts take full effect, but staffing would not likely be affected, Tietz said.

The Housing Authority cut 2.5 positions in 2011, reducing the staff to 35 employees, which has helped the agency weather reduced funding, she said.

But the agency will continue to process applications for public housing, though reserves are being used to fund operating costs.

“The impact is that the people that we already serve will continue to be serviced,” she said.

“We just have to figure out what's coming and how to deal with it.”

Apparently unaffected by the budget impasse is Federal Aviation Administration Airport Improvement Grant funding to improve landing approaches to William R. Fairchild International Airport west of Port Angeles by cutting trees at adjacent Lincoln Park.

The funding is derived from user fees imposed airline passengers, Port of Port Angeles Airport and Marina Manager Doug Sandau said.

FAA spokesman Allen Kenitzer would not comment on how sequestration might affect funding on the North Olympic Peninsula.

But according to the Budget Control Act of 2011, the grant will not be affected by sequester-related budget cuts.

Until the grant is actually approved, “they won't say the money is official,” Sandau added.



Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at paul.gottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: March 03. 2013 7:03PM
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