Congressmen working to minimize impact of sequester on Texas military installations

Posted Friday, Mar. 01, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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FORT HOOD -- As long as congressional inaction continues, the only thing certain about the sequester's impact on Texas is that the state stands to lose billions in funding.

As federal officials gear up to slash billions of dollars in programs that help finance everything from school programs to meals for the elderly, Republican U.S. Reps. Roger Williams and John Carter said Friday that they are working to find a way to at least minimize the impact on the military.

They say Congress has until March 27 to pass a special appropriations budget for the military that will at least let leaders shift money between programs to avoid any crucial funding cuts that could, for instance, impact military training and put service men and women at risk.

"The Obama sequester is bad for America, it's bad for the military and it's bad for Fort Hood," Williams, whose congressional district stretches from Tarrant to Travis counties, told media gathered outside the Fort Hood military post Friday. "There's no getting around it. Good programs are going to get cut; good people are going to be furloughed."

Obama said the impact of sequestration -- the automatic spending cuts triggered because leaders couldn't agree on a better way to cut federal spending -- won't be felt immediately, but they will impact people's lives.

A recent White House report, estimating the financial impacts state-by-state over the next 10 years, shows $46 billion could be cut from defense spending nationwide. That could furlough 52,000 civilian Defense Department employees and cause a $275 million loss in annual pay in Texas.

Texas has 131,548 active military personnel -- the most in the country, and 48,057 civilian personnel.

"The good news is ... there is a fix for this sequestration problem as it relates to our military," said Carter, R-Round Rock, who heads the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee.

Carter said members in the U.S. House are working on a special appropriations budget that, while maintaining federally dictated spending cuts, would allow military leaders to shift money from programs that might be able to sustain cuts to crucial programs that can't.

"We do not want to send one single soldier into harm's way without training," he said.

Williams, a member of the House Budget Committee, said Congress has until later this month "to do the right thing."

"I will support any congressional effort that shifts the responsibility of these spending cuts to other areas of the budget that could use some cutting and doesn't include our military," he said. "... Nobody can say this is good for America, good for Texas or good for our troops."

U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, said recently during a speech on the House floor that the federal cuts will have a broad impact in both local communities and those nationwide.

"Americans will see more teacher layoffs, indiscriminate cuts to special education, a loss of 4 million meals for seniors, and debilitating cuts to healthcare for military families," he said. "These cuts would deeply hurt constituents in my North Texas district and citizens across the nation."

So many things are unknown about how quickly cuts will go into place and exactly which positions and services will be impacted. Political observers note that lawmakers have time to make changes and correct key funding problems that arise in the coming weeks.

Texas impact

Here's a look at some potential cuts that will be felt in North Texas:

Military: In addition to the other estimates, nearly 2,200 civilian workers at Naval Air Station Fort Worth face possible furloughs. A planned October appearance by the Blue Angels at the Fort Worth Alliance Air Show may be canceled. At Fort Hood, around 6,000 civilian employees could face being furloughed up to 16 hours every two weeks. A hiring freeze has already left more than 100 jobs unfilled.

Senior meals: The local effort to deliver meals to the homes of those in need could lose potentially between $128,917 and $161,147 this fiscal year, according to estimates from Meals on Wheels of Tarrant County. That might mean the group, which also receives private donations and other government funds, serves between 25,000 and 32,000 fewer meals to local residents.

"We are very fortunate that we have the support of those in the community who make personal donations and understand this is a program many depend on to survive," said Denise Harris, a spokeswoman with the group. "While we are in support for trimming federal spending, when it comes to specific cuts the question should be asked. What will it cost to cut funds to these programs? I can't speak for every Meals On Wheels program but specially to our program it costs $1,430 annually to feed a homebound senior. If you took this same senior's meal funding away, they could be forced to move into a government subsidized facility at a taxpayer cost of $78,000 annually. We serve over 4,700 individuals a year; saving this program saves tax dollars."

FBI: Estimates show that sequestration will nationwide essentially cut 2,285 FBI employees -- including 775 agents -- through furloughs and a hiring freeze. Every FBI employee would be furloughed for 14 workdays, which means about 7,000 fewer FBI employees will work each day.

The hiring freeze would lead to 2,275 vacant positions by the end of the year, including 350 Special Agents, 275 Intelligence Analysts and 1,650 professional support staff, according to a recent letter written by FBI Director Robert S. Mueller.

The Dallas division has about 520 employees, which includes workers from the main office and 12 resident agencies, spokeswoman Katherine Gilkinson Chaumont said.

"In short and in sum, sequestration will require immediate and significant reductions to the FBI and to its operations," Mueller wrote. "Because sequestration calls for across-the-board cuts, the FBI would be required to do less in all its programs, including against Al Qaeda and its affiliated groups, as well as the growing and sophisticated threats from cyber attacks, foreign intelligence and national and transnational criminal activities."

Public education: Current estimates show that the Fort Worth school district, for instance, could lose about 5 percent -- or $2.8 million -- from its $57 million entitlement budget.

"We do not expect, nor are we planning for, any teacher or employee layoffs," district spokesman Clint Bond said. "If the cuts happen, we would have to streamline some programs but we really won't know how until ... the cuts occur."

City services: The Texas Municipal League has said that city-related programs that could be impacted would include Community Development Block Grants, HOME Investment Partnership, Byrne Justice Assistance Grants and COPS grants, in addition to other federal funds earmarked for water infrastructure, job training, education, transit and emergency management.

Arlington Mayor Robert Cluck, a past president of the TML, has said a sequester could mean a $3 million hit to Arlington's city budget, potentially leading to the closure of the municipal airport control tower and cutting Section 8 public housing for about 200 households.

In Fort Worth, Chief Financial Officer Horatio Porter said basic city services -- police and fire, trash collection, water -- won't be impacted because they are funded by local dollars. But he said the city could see reduction in some funds, such as Community Development Block Grants.

"We are extremely concerned about the impact of the automatic budget reductions that would imposed by the sequestration," he said. "We do receive some grants that augment some of our programs but none that would have an immediate [impact] on the services we provide to our citizens. Our much larger concern is for the local companies and their employees that reside in Fort Worth. The area has experienced modest economic recovery with increased activity in the housing market, improved retail spending and unprecedented new construction. Automatic cuts could certainly stifle the activity for some of our companies and correspondingly impact our citizens."

Federal courts: Automatic budget cuts could require the layoffs of one-quarter of all federal court personnel -- including those who work in the Fort Worth federal courthouse. Further reductions may be felt through delayed cases, shorter office hours for clerks, less security, even suspended jury trials because of fewer dollars dedicated to jury fees, Joseph F. Cleveland, president of the Fort Worth chapter of the Federal Bar Association, has said.

"The bottom line is that these automatic budget cuts will harm justice, our economy and the safety of our communities," Cleveland said.

Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610

Twitter: @annatinsley

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