By John Raby
Automatic federal budget cuts set to take effect Friday would mean thousands of temporary layoffs for National Guard and civilian defense workers in West Virginia, along with reduced funding for programs such as education, the environment, and public health and safety, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin said Tuesday.
The West Virginia Democrat said on a conference call that he’s discouraged Congress hasn’t reached a long-term, bipartisan compromise, but he’s still “very hopeful” a deal can be completed before month’s end.
Manchin called the proposed widespread cuts “ludicrous.”
“I just think there’s a smarter way to do it,” he said. “Our safety, our commitment to our children and seniors, and our investment in our economic future are all in jeopardy.”
Manchin said 2,000 Department of Defense civilian employees in the state would be furloughed if the cuts occur. And 56 members of the West Virginia National Guard would be laid off immediately, while more than 900 state Guard members would have shorter work weeks.
He said the cuts would hit military installations and units across West Virginia, including “an unknown but significant” funding reduction at Camp Dawson, the National Guard’s training facility in Kingwood.
And in a state that has the second-highest rate of drug overdose deaths in the nation, Manchin said the state would lose $430,000 in grants to prevent and treat substance abuse, resulting in 600 fewer admissions to substance abuse programs. In addition, the loss of $96,000 in justice assistance grants would curtail funding for state programs involving law enforcement, drug treatment and enforcement, prosecution and court services.
Last week, White House Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske attended seminars in Huntington and Charleston on state efforts to fight prescription drug abuse. He said the cuts across agencies, including funding for drug task forces that are widely used in West Virginia, have the potential to bring “some very significant problems.”
“Task forces and these combined (law enforcement) groups are often funded with federal dollars,” he said. “I would be very concerned about it.”
Manchin said among the education cuts in West Virginia include $5.8 million for supplemental programs that help low-income families and students, $3 million for Head Start programs, $3.9 million for special education, and $132,000 for technology services.
The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration would continue its coal mine inspection program, but other inspections, along with accident prevention and technical investigations, would be reduced.
Last week the Federal Aviation Administration warned it would have to close control towers at airports in Bridgeport, Huntington, Lewisburg, Parkersburg and Wheeling as part of its plan to trim $600 million in costs. The towers at Morgantown and Charleston would remain open, although overnight shifts would be eliminated. Flights would still run, but they could be delayed.
Manchin said West Virginia would lose $488,000 in grants for fish and wildlife programs, in addition to being hit by cuts in overall environmental programs that promote water and air quality and cutting down on pesticide and hazardous waste pollution.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency estimates the loss of more than $110,000 in grants that would enable West Virginia fire departments and other emergency personnel obtain equipment, training and other resources. Manchin said an additional $177,000 in cuts would diminish the state’s response to public health threats.
Manchin said other cuts would jeopardize food safety inspection facilities, eliminate financial aid for 200-low income students and job-search assistance for residents, including military veterans, and reduce funding for domestic violence, child immunization and senior nutrition programs.