Sequester Set To Slash Disability Services
03/12/2013 - 11:51
Helen Chernikoff
President Barack Obama and Congress are at loggerheads over the budget, and the sequester is the result. Getty Images
President Barack Obama and Congress are at loggerheads over the budget, and the sequester is the result. Getty Images

As we’ve discussed already on the blog, forced federal budget cuts triggered by a stalemate in Congressional negotiations over a new budget will hurt programs and services for those with disabilities.

Here’s more detail on how the sequester will play out in New York state, from Jewish Week staff writer Stewart Ain, who wrote an entire article on the subject.

Excerpts with particular relevance to the disability community are below; you can find the full piece on the Jewish Week’s homepage starting March 13.

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Local Jewish social service agencies are talking about increasing their employee workloads and making other changes to absorb expected government funding cuts as a result of Congress’ inability to agree on a new budget.

“As a social service agency, it is hard to imagine a program we have that will not be affected in some way, whether it is next month or in two years,” said Gail Magaliff, chief executive officer of FEGS Health and Human Services. “Cuts like this will have a ripple effect in every aspect of the economy — from research to grants for kids to go to college.”

The across-the-board budget cuts, known as the sequester, are to total about $1.2 trillion over the next decade, with $85 billion being phased in through September. Congress adopted them in 2011 as an incentive to adopt a budget. But with congressional leaders deadlocked over how to close the budget gap, the cuts began phasing in March 1.

Ron Soloway, managing director of government relations at UJA-Federation of New York, said sequestration “could cost UJA-Federation agencies tens of millions of dollars over the next decade if not amended.” There are nearly 100 agencies in the federation system.

Founded by UJA some 80 years ago as a broad-based provider of health and social services in the city, Long Island and Westchester, FEGS serves people with development and physical disabilities, those who need home care, as well as those job training or assistance finding work.

“We work with everybody from a young person in school in danger of dropping out to professionals and refugee immigrants, those on public assistance, the disabled and older workers,” Magaliff said. The group has 300 locations and serves 10,000 people a day, she added.

Because the entire economy is impacted by the sequestration, she said more people will “need employment services, there will be more family problems, increased mental health and family tensions and problems with kids. … There are just so many cuts any organization can make, so we will not be able to deliver the same kind of services.”

Another agency bracing for a funding cutback is the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services (JBFCS). It works with children with behavioral problems and mental illness — a total of 30,000 children and their families — at 50 locations in the city and at a residential treatment center in Hawthorne in Westchester.

“Most of our clients are low-income and so are funded by Medicaid, which is exempt from the sequester, but that does not mean we are not impacted,” according to David Rivel, JBFCS’ chief administrative officer. “We get some money from [Housing and Urban Development] and have been told to expect a 3.5 percent cut in those funds. That will mean between $25,000 and $30,000 for us annually. That is something we could probably manage were there not two more significant issues.

“One is the fact that there will be less money coming to the state, and the state will then have to cut its budget. That surely will impact us, although it is unclear how the state will cut its budget.”

And second, Rivel pointed out, the federal government provides subsidies to New York State for public housing and other affordable housing: cuts there “would likely mean more homeless and more mentally ill on the streets — and these are the clients we work with.”

“So even if sequestration does not directly affect us in terms of cuts, the demand for our services will go up without any additional revenue to pay for it,” he added.

Although the $85 billion cut this year is unprecedented, Rivel observed that “we as a human services system have experienced cuts for a number of years running to the point where it is a very fragile system.”
Soloway, the UJA-Federation official, said that as with all service systems funded in the state during the recent economic downturn, “not-for-profit, community-based services have already had more than $350 million, or close to 9 percent, in cuts recently.”

Rivel noted that most of his agency’s programs have deficits. As a result, the agency raises about $12 million a year to help cover its $200 million budget. Despite that, the agency had a deficit last year that forced it to dip into its reserves, and Rivel said he expects to have another deficit this year. 

Asked if his agency could simply close its doors to new patients, Rivel said, “I don’t know we could do that or would want to do that. We will figure out to pay for it, but it is not going to be easy. And hopefully it will not go on for a very long time.”

helenatjewishweek@gmail.com; @newnormalblog
 

 

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