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Federal budget cuts could affect local agencies

Feb. 28, 2013 @ 11:20 PM

HUNTINGTON -- The local effect of the federal budget cuts (called the sequester) is not completely clear, according to some officials.

Here are some of the areas that could be affected:

U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS: Corps officials have been doing improvement planning for months in anticipation for the sequester, said Brian Maka, a spokesman for the Huntington District of the Corps.

He said he could not comment on specific actions that will affect the district office, saying the plans had been discussed with the district work force.

"At this point, this is a rapidly changing event, and we haven't been directed to take any of those actions," Maka said. "There's no appropriate way of saying which actions may or may not happen."

RESEARCH: Federal dollars for research could be cut, and the trickle-down effect could impact scientists, graduate assistants and the availability of internships.

John Maher, the vice president for Research at Marshall University, said the expectation is that previously awarded grants will be honored. But, without a long-term solution, it could lead to fewer awards and fewer scholarships.

"It creates a lot of uncertainty," Maher said Thursday from the 10th annual Undergraduate Research Day luncheon at the Cultural Center in Charleston. "It may be the worst thing you do for research enterprise."

Maher also said, as he looked out at a crowd of about 100 students who took part in a research project, that cutting those dollars means not investing in the ideas and projects that start during an undergraduate experience.

Paul Hill, chancellor of West Virginia's Higher Education Policy Commission, said the state has done a good job of putting money in research grants, noting a national climb from 37th in 2006 to 18th last year. But he said there are grant programs that do rely on federal dollars, and many times that ends up supporting student research experiences in lab settings.

CABELL-HUNTINGTON HEALTH DEPARTMENT: When asked about the potential effects of the sequestration on programs and initiatives at the Cabell-Huntington Health Department, executive director Dr. Harry Tweel said there are myriad unknowns.

"This potentially could have an impact on us, but we just don't know at this point," Tweel said. "Could it affect us? Certainly. Do we have any earthly idea what that will mean? No. Will it directly affect some of our programs? We just don't know yet."

Tweel declined comment on what he called rumors surrounding the sequester and said his conversations with financial-minded individuals haven't yielded many answers.

"We haven't heard anything official. Nobody knows anything just yet, to be blunt," Tweel said.

Tweel likened the sequester to a coming storm.

"If you know a storm is coming, you try to watch for it," he said. "If you know it's going to be big and disastrous, you try to prepare for it, but in this one, we don't have any clue."

EDUCATION: According to a release from West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin's office on Tuesday, the impact on education funding in the state could be as high as $13 million.

That includes work study jobs, Head Start, rural education funding, special education grants and Title 1 grants. Work study, which is available to students who qualify based on household income, could see 200 job opportunities cut from college campuses. Another 60 students would no longer be eligible.

Head Start would face nearly $3 million in cuts, which could reduce access for 415 3- and 4-year-old children, along with about 180 jobs.

Special education grants could see a cut of nearly $4 million that would affect nearly 2,000 special needs students and eliminate jobs for 47 special education teachers. Title 1, which is a program that provides extra funds to schools with high proportions of students living in poverty, could face nearly $6 million cuts. That would equate to about 80 positions being eliminated.

Rural education funding would see $132,000 in cuts.

TRI-STATE AIRPORT: Officials at the airport have said flights could continue, despite possible closure of the airport's tower or the removal of overnight staffing at the tower. Those changes would not likely start until April.

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