By MATTHEW UMSTEAD
9:06 PM EST, February 26, 2013
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, including those at the 167th Airlift Wing near Martinsburg, along with reduced funding for several other programs, 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.
“A good percentage of (the 56 Guard members) are going to come from the 167th Airlift Wing,” Lt. Col. David Lester said Tuesday in a separate interview.
About 350 of the 167th Airlift Wing’s 500 full-time Guard members would receive what amounts to a 20 percent pay cut through the furloughs, Lester said.
There are also concerns about possible reductions in flight training, Lester said.
“Everything right now seems to be very fluid,” Lester said of projected $30 million statewide impact on the National Guard.
The Department of Defense, along with the Department of Veterans Affairs and the U.S. Treasury are among Berkeley County’s top 10 employers, according to state employment data.
Manchin 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 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.
Aside from the one-time American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding, Berkeley County Superintendent Manny Arvon said the school district has received between $14 and $15 million from federal sources each year.
“Just because the funding stops doesn’t mean the children will stop coming (to school),” Arvon said.
Arvon expects school districts across the state will experience a “crunch” on operational funds if the sequestration goes into effect.
For Berkeley County, possible federal funding cuts would deepen reductions the school district already has had to make because of the drop in property values, Arvon said.
About 3,000 of the school district’s students are in special education, which already is under-funded, according to Arvon.
In a four-page report titled “Sequestration Takes an Ax to West Virginia,” Manchin spotlighted the “Top 20 Cuts” to the state, which he said 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.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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