Unless Congress acts, a series of automatic cuts in federal spending – totaling $85 billion – will take effect Friday. The reductions are known collectively as “sequestration,” which is a dirty word to Kay Mixon. She is the executive director of the Cumbee Center to Assist Abused Persons, which is based in Aiken and serves a six-county area.
“We most definitely would affected by sequestration; our federal grants would be cut,” she said Tuesday. “I have been here 27 years as the executive director and this is the first time that truly, truly I have been very much afraid. These grants aren't easy to come by – there is a lot of competition for them – and some could go just go away, period. We wouldn't really have anywhere to turn to so we could replace this money.”
The Cumbee Center helps 1,800 to 2,000 victims of domestic violence and sexual assault each year. According to information released by the White House on Sunday, South Carolina could lose up to $99,000 in funds that would provide services to victims of domestic violence, resulting in up to 400 fewer victims being served.
Another concern for Mixon is that sequestration would take away Congress' attention from an important bill that would reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. The legislation would provide expanded protection for immigrants, Native Americans and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people. The Senate passed the bill last year, but it stalled in the House. “If there is sequestration, they probably won't even touch that; it probably will just sit there,” Mixon said.
Another organization facing a negative impact from sequestration is the Lower Savannah Council of Governments. Connie Shade is the executive director of the Aiken-based organization.If the cuts go into effect, projections indicate that the six-county region served by the Council would lose approximately $190,000 in funds used for various programs for senior citizens, according to Shade.
“That's pretty significant for six counties, especially when you figure that four of them – Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell and Calhoun – are very rural,” Shade said. “In Allendale and Bamberg, the poverty levels are very high. Those two counties have always struggled and they have continued to lose population over the years.”
The White House reported that sequestration would cause South Carolina to lose about $791,000 in funds to provide meals for senior citizens and “that's one thing that popped out at us,” Shade said.
The elderly also could be forced to do without programs that provide in-home caregivers and assist victims of abuse, according to Shade.
Candis Moyer, director of resource development for the United Way of Aiken County, said she and her colleagues weren't yet sure how sequestration would affect the organization.
“Our biggest concern with the prospective cuts would be that our agencies would see an increase in the need for their services,” she said.
It has been widely reported that one of the consequences of sequestration would be a reduction in Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefits, which are federally funded. Individuals without jobs become eligible for such benefits after they have exhausted their regular state unemployment benefits (available for up to 20 weeks in South Carolina).
“Right now, South Carolina has about 22,000 claimants on Emergency Unemployment Compensation,” said Adrienne Fairwell, a spokesperson for the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce.
According to the White House, sequestration would cause the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control to lose approximately $276,000, which would result in around 6,900 fewer HIV tests.
Jim Beasley, public information director for the Department, declined to discuss that report or the other possible effects of sequestration.
“We have not received any formal notification yet from our federal funding partners regarding sequestration, so we are continuing to operate (as usual),” he said. “It would be totally inappropriate for me to comment on something that we hadn't been contacted about yet. Until we actually get notified, it's very difficult for us to really be able to say anything.”