Vineyard programs that depend on federal funding are expected to see little impact, at least in the short term, from the much-publicized automatic budget cuts set to take effect in Washington today. But leaders in Island education, elder and health services said next year could be a different story.
The $1.2 trillion across-the-board budget cuts, also known as sequestration, will affect education, small business, public safety and community services across the country. On Monday, the White House released a state-by-state analysis, with Massachusetts expected to lose $43 million in payroll cuts for civilian defense workers, $26 million in education grants and $4 million in environmental funding for clean water and air quality.
Paul Wild, contracts and customer services manager at Elder Services of Cape Cod and the Islands, said it is too soon to say how the cuts will affect his program, which among other things provides meals to seniors through the home delivery service Meals on Wheels, and to senior centers on the Vineyard.
Mr. Wild said financial straits are nothing new for his program, which relies on private fund-raising to make ends meet every year.
“We would continue to operate no matter what,” he said. “We already operate the program at a six-figure loss every year.”
Mr. Wild said the Meals on Wheels program has expanded dramatically in the last year to meet the growing demands of an aging population on the Island. The nutrition program, which includes home-delivered meals and food for senior dining centers, increased 31 per cent in 2012, he said.
Mr. Wild said last year 38,000 meals were purchased by the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, which administers the nutrition program, at a cost of $282,000.
The program not only provides food but an essential social service. “Especially with more and more isolated home-bound elders, it’s critical to their actual existence,” Mr. Wild said. “This age wave is coming at us in spurts here and there, and I think last year was big year for the Vineyard and it’s continuing. It’s becoming more and more a destination to retire.”
If the federal budget cuts go through, the reduction in funds would come down through the Older Americans Act, which provides social services to the elderly including the Meals on Wheels program.
Mr. Wild said his organization also has seen a spike in protective service cases on the Vineyard, which include any allegation or suspicion of abuse (both financial and physical), neglect or self-neglect. In 2011 there were 10 reported incidents; in 2012 there were 31. The most common report was self-neglect, Mr. Wild said, which he attributed to the independent New England lifestyle.
“That’s a very good value to have until it crosses the safety line,” he said. “We have a lot of caregiving situations where the caregivers get exhausted, and the lucky thing is we can offer support services to relieve the stress. A lot of interventions are successful ones.”
In education cuts, Massachusetts stands to lose some $13.9 million in funding for primary and secondary education, and an additional $13.4 million for education for children with disabilities.
Vineyard schools superintendent Dr. James H. Weiss said this week he had learned from the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents that sequestration will result in a five per cent cut to school improvement grants, including Title 1 funding, Project Headway and other special education programs. Title 1 funding provides remedial support for low-income students who struggle academically and Project Headway serves preschool students with disabilities.
The cuts would not be felt until the start of the next fiscal year in July.
There are six positions funded by Title 1 money. Mr. Weiss said funding has declined every year.
But the education cuts could have longer-term impacts from preschool to high school. Other programs that receive federal funding include the writing lab at the high school, several part-time reading and math specialists at the Oak Bluffs School, professional development and support for teachers at the Edgartown School.
“It would mean the support personnel we have for kids who struggle might not be there and that would be significant,” Mr. Weiss said.
Head Start programs across the country, which provide free early childhood education to low-income families, are also slated for significant cuts.
Debbie Milne, early childhood program director at Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, which operates the Head Start preschool program on the Island, said she has heard of no cuts yet to her program. And she said no news is good news.
“They say many Head Start children will be cut out of the program, but I’m not sure that is how it’s going to affect our program,” Ms. Milne said. “Typically if there are cuts on the horizon we get a notice to expect this. And we’ve had no information at all.”
Small airport control towers are said to be at risk from the federal budget cuts, but Martha’s Vineyard Airport manager Sean Flynn said as far as he knows, not here.
“From the information we have received there should be minimal if not negligible impact on the airport if it goes into effect,” Mr. Flynn said Thursday. “From what the air control tower has told me, they are not on the list to be cut.”
Cape and Islands state Sen. Dan Wolf said the impending budget cuts send exactly the wrong message. “It cuts to the core of all those things that government is doing to help those in need and give those who don’t have the opportunity more opportunity,” he said. “It is unfortunate how dysfunctional our government is at this point and it’s unfortunate that it’s gotten to the point where a few people out of the several hundred million of this country have figured out how to hurt the rest.”