Air service, school lunches among services that sequestration could impact

School lunches, county seniors, Clovis airport and Cannon Air Force Base could all suffer if Congress fails to reach a budget agreement by the sequester deadline Friday.

The problem for most in charge of the programs or institutions locally is trying to gauge just how hard they will be hit if sequestration becomes reality.

During a speech Wednesday in Washington, President Barack Obama warned the looming budget cuts could hurt a slowly reviving national economy. Obama acknowledged many people may not immediately notice the full impact of the sequester cuts if they take effect. But he said yanking $85 billion from the economy this year would be a "big hit" on a nation still trying to fully recover from a recession.

Clovis City Manager Joe Thomas said locally it could also seriously affect or curtail Great Lakes Airlines passenger flights at the airport, which are subsidized by federal money estimated at $1 million annually.

Assistant Curry County Manager Connie Harrison said the mandatory budget cuts would drastically curtail the Foster Grandparent and Retired Senior Volunteer programs, which depend on 51 percent federal funding.

Portales schools Superintendent Randy Fowler said through a spokesperson that no one knows yet how school programs might be affected.

Clovis Superintendent Terry Myers echoed Fowler's sentiments, but noted the budget cuts would likely hurt reduced or free school lunches. Myers said about 70 percent of Clovis students participate in the federally subsidized reduced and free lunch programs.

Myers also said special education and gifted and talented programs would likely be hit hard. Clovis has about 1,600 students participating in those two programs, he said.

Furloughs for civilian employees and cutbacks on flight operations loom at Cannon and other bases, according to Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC).

"There is the possibility of civilian furloughs," according to a posting on its website, also noting that the Department of Defense has "stated that furloughs will only be executed as one of our measures of last resort. Civilian employees will be advised at least 30 days prior to imposing any unpaid furlough."

Statewide, according to a release from the White House, about 7,000 civilian defense department employees could be furloughed, reducing gross pay by about $42 million. The same statement noted "Funding for Air Force operations in New Mexico would be cut by about $10 million."

The White House estimates New Mexico will lose about $6.1 million in federal funding for schools and cuts to Head Start and Early Head Start programs would eliminate those services for about 500 children.

Also at stake for Curry and Roosevelt counties are Community Development Block Grants, federal money given to states to disperse for local government projects. It's not likely the current Legislature will be able to come up with the additional money needed to fund county CBDG grants still pending.

Curry County has a $500,000 CDBG grant application pending for road construction, said Harrison. Roosevelt County has a $500,000 CDBG grant pending to help build a new clinic for ARISE, the sexual assault nurse examiners office, according to County Manager Charlene Webb.

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