Agencies in S.C. brace for cuts

jself@thestate.comFebruary 28, 2013 

SC flag and money

  • In the clear for now? Columbia flights continue as scheduled

    Passengers flying out of Columbia Metropolitan Airport should experience no changes when the sequester goes into effect, said Kaela Harmon, airport spokeswoman.

    The jobs of 70 employees of Columbia Metropolitan are not at risk, and any impact to the Transportation Security Authority and the Federal Aviation Authority workers at the airport would be minimized to off-peak hours.

    “(D)uring non-peak hours, pilots are trained and have features accessible to them so that they will be able to operate” – landing and taking off – “without (control) tower control,” she said.

    S.C. parks expect little impact

    While a White House news release warned of the partial or full closing of “many of the 398 national parks,” S.C. parks expect little immediate impact.

    Unfilled positions and reduced expenses – for supplies and preservation materials – may help Charleston’s Fort Sumter National Monument, including Fort Moultrie, weather the cuts, said Sandy Pusey, the monument’s acting superintendent. However, the park may cut back on re-enactments.

    Visitors to Congaree National Park likely will not notice cuts. The park staff will reduce its non-mandatory travel and training, and trim expenditures on supplies. No employee furloughs are planned, said superintendent Tracy Stakely. Money set aside for hiring seasonal workers instead will be used to prevent job cuts or furloughs.

The impact of $85 billion in across-the-board cuts to the federal budget may not be immediately felt in South Carolina when they take effect today.

But some credit unions are getting ready anyway, offering “sequestration” loans of up to $2,000 to federal workers who are members and are furloughed.

Some federal agencies say government employees could be furloughed one day a week from April to September, losing up to 20 percent of their pay. Workers will be given 30 days notice before furloughs begin.

Beyond those scant details, much of how “sequestration” will affect South Carolina remains unclear. Programs impacting the elderly and the poor are exempt, including Social Security, veteran benefits, and those that provide food stamps and assistance to families and children in need.

But as the cuts, caused by the U.S. Congress’ failure to reduce the deficit, take shape, they are likely to have a broad impact on the state.

In Washington, at a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin said Thursday the cuts and those that may follow – as the nation moves toward another debate over whether to increase the federal government’s borrowing limit – will have serious impacts on local governments.

“These across-the-board cuts, with no attention to where our national priorities are, is not the way to do business,” Benjamin said.

Preparing for cuts

Some S.C. credit unions are taking steps to provide financial assistance to members and their families who may be hurt.

For example, North Charleston-based CPM Federal, which has a branch in Columbia, is offering a Sequestration Loan Assistance package – a one-time personal loan equal to a month’s pay, or up to $2,000, at 3 percent interest. No loan payments would be required for 90 days if member-borrowers are furloughed and have direct deposit of their paychecks.

“If Congress does not act to prevent it, many of our members could face economic hardships,” said Patty Sailer, CPM Federal’s marketing manager.

Other credit unions that cater to federal workers are preparing to act as well.

• Safe Federal Credit Union, headquartered in Sumter, is making $500 emergency loans available to members if needed, officials said.

• Palmetto Trust Federal Credit Union has set up a process similar to steps it took in 1995, when Congress shut down the federal government, said chief executive Lucile Beckwith. The credit union is offering a 30-day, 0-percent interest loan equal to members’ net pay if they use direct deposit for their paychecks, Beckwith said, with a 30-day renewal available.

Nuclear waste disposal

Speaking on the floor of the U.S. House on Thursday, U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-Springfield, warned thousands of federal employees who work at the Savannah River Site, near Aiken, will face furloughs.

Wilson said the cuts would “stall critical national missions due to a possible $200 million budget cut” at SRS.

Operated by the U.S. Department of Energy, SRS is home to the largest plant in the nation that converts radioactive liquid waste into glass. The facility has about 11,400 employees. All but about 300 work as contractors, according to spokesman Bill Taylor.

Military is standing by

State military officials still are awaiting details about the sequester.

South Carolina has eight military bases that contribute $16 billion a year to the state’s economy. The state’s 4,000 defense-contracting companies, which have 13,600 jobs, also could be affected.

“No one has pulled the trigger yet,” said Fort Jackson public affairs officer Michael Pond. “Right now, it’s speculation.”

But the Columbia base has come up with plans to find savings, including using less energy and postponing maintenance, he said. Those moves might not save much. But, he added, “Every little realized savings counts.”

Infant special

ed program

in the dark

Others say they too have received little information about how their programs will be affected.

For example, the BabyNet program – the infant and toddler version of special education, providing early-intervention services to children under age 3 – receives about $6 million a year from the federal government to serve about 4,000 S.C. children. However, the U.S. Department of Education has provided no specific guidance on how that program would be affected.

S.C. First Steps, which oversees BabyNet, would “look at every possible way of absorbing a cut” without reducing the number of children it serves, said Dan Wuori, chief program officer for First Steps.

But, depending on the size of the cut, that may be difficult, he added.

Reporters Roddie Burris, Jeff Wilkinson, and Joey Holleman contributed. Reach Self at (803)771-8658

The State is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service