Looming sequester cuts pose grim challenges for city officials

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The city of Berkeley is preparing for significant reductions in funding for social services as a result of cuts related to the federal sequester.

The state of California is expected to see a $500 million cut due to sequestration in coming months, which will influence the scope of health, community services, law enforcement and education programs provided throughout the state and in Berkeley.

While the city has yet to receive precise details on the nature, timing and placement of the sequester’s cuts, city officials grimly anticipate the consequences for various social services.

“Our community in Berkeley, along with communities in California and across the nation, will feel the impact of sequestration,” said Councilmember Jesse Arreguin. “It’s really unfortunate that Congress did not try to find a solution. It is compromising our economy, resulting in loss of jobs and cuts to education.”

Arreguin noted that those reliant on the city’s social services, such as senior citizens, the disabled and low-income to working-class families, will be hit especially hard due to these cuts.

“I think it’s going to spread a lot of pain,” said Councilmember Kriss Worthington. “The different nonprofit organizations that get these grants are the safety net that provide extremely important programs to poor people. There will be pain spread around the city.”

The Housing and Community Services Department of Berkeley projected that an 8.2 percent decrease in federal funding would result in a $666,000 reduction in the next fiscal year. This will impact services including city staffing, funding for affordable housing development and rental subsidies for homeless clients. Health services, such as the senior citizen nutrition program and vaccinations for children, will also be impacted.

Statewide cuts to primary and secondary education and law enforcement grants will also impact the city’s public schools and safety services. The Berkeley Unified School District estimates an approximately $300,000 reduction for the 2013-14 fiscal year, according to Deputy Superintendent Javetta Cleveland.

Berkeley Police Department has recognized that it will be impacted and is currently evaluating data to understand the extent of the effects, according to Officer Jennifer Coats, spokesperson for BPD.

But due to the lack of specifics regarding how deeply city services will be impacted, the city currently remains unable to take any immediate action in response, according to Worthington and Arreguin.

However, Worthington expressed hope that Congress will come up with a solution before these cuts come into effect. At this point, the city is still looking at what is possible, such as lobbying in Washington, Worthington said.

“The sequester really will have a detrimental impact on Berkeley,” Arreguin said. “The longer this goes on, the worse the situation will become.”

Contact Sophie Ho at sho@daily[email protected].

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