HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Another looming budget deadline for Congress—according to the White House, the options are compromise or let $85 billion in automatic federal spending cuts go into effect Friday.
It's clear sequestration is on a lot of minds – but what will it mean for Hawai'i and how soon would the state feel the impact of the deficit reduction plan? That depends on who you ask.
According to Claire Shimabukuro, Executive Director of Hawai'i Meals on Wheels, the result would be devastating. Federal funding accounts for about 10% of the organization's budget – and if automatic cuts take place, the state will lose about $189,000 dollars to provide meals for the elderly. Shimabukuro says that's more than 1,400 seniors – who are incapable of going to the grocery store or cooking for themselves – who would lose home delivery services by the end of this year.
"Meal service is not discretionary. The right to food is something that people should definitely have," said Shimabukuro. "This is not an entitlement or handout but this is something that is important for them because they have contributed to this society and they deserve this."
It's not just our elderly, but the youngest members of our community who would be affected. The White House reports, sequestration would cost at least 200 children a chance to enroll in Head Start early childhood education programs. According to Lynn Cabato, H-CAP Head Start Director, it's not just the kids who will suffer— but the entire family.
"Parents that are utilizing the services-- they're either employed or in school or in job training programs--- they will lose access to early Head Start and Head Start programs and will be needing to find other resources," said Cabato. "We have had additional support through the state and the city but the bulk of the moneys comes from federal funding, so it will drastically impact the families that we currently can service and reduce it for future children that we could possibly enroll—so it comes at a really critical age."
According to the Obama Administration, a failure for Congress to reach a resolution could result in approximately $638,000 in funding cuts for infectious disease response, substance abuse programs, HIV testing & vaccinations for children. Health Department Director Loretta Fuddy says they have until October to absorb the costs and come up with a plan.
"Public health—our dollars are precious. We've gone through a very bad economic time in the state of Hawaii—so we've lost a lot of our state funds—we've become very heavily reliant on our federal dollars, so to lose those dollars means that we'll be in great jeopardy," said Fuddy.
Aside from military spending, the state's biggest cuts would target education. White House officials report $4.7 million in funding cuts for primary and secondary education. With that, some 60 teacher and aide jobs would be at risk in public schools. It also said Hawaii will lose about $2 million in funds for about 20 teachers, aides and staff who help children with disabilities. State Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi says funding for this school year is secure, but a plan would need to be in place by May when they start preparing for the next school year.
"Federal dollars are important to Hawai'i and it's that we are taking it lightly at all. We are watching it—it's just difficult to plan when we're really not certain what will happen, and because we have a little bit of a longer lead time than maybe some other state agencies because the current school year isn't impacted," said Matayoshi, before adding that through the process of attrition the Department of Education may be able to offset the impact of losing federal dollars.
The biggest cuts would come in the Department of Defense budget, resulting in the furloughs of 20,000 civilian employees in the islands. That would reduce pay by $134.1 million dollars. The White House said the Army would have to cut $106 million from base operations in Hawaii. The Air Force would have to cut $15 million from its operations budget. The Navy said maintenance and repair of the U.S.S. Chafee could be canceled.