Monday, May 21, 2018
News Roundup

Federal budget cuts would be felt throughout the community

Hot meals for seniors, Head Start slots and housing vouchers for poor families are among the places Hernando County could feel the blade of the federal budget hatchet.

As today's deadline for Congress to act to prevent $85 billion in cuts approached, local officials braced for uncertain but likely painful effects on programs that help bolster the safety net for residents.

"As a county, we're very concerned," said Veda Ramirez, the county's health and human services manager. "We know these things are expected to be impacted, but how much we're not sure."

That uncertainty adds to stress levels, program administrators contacted by the Times said this week.

Mid-Florida Community Services has been told to prepare for as much as a 10 percent hit to the federal funds the nonprofit agency uses to serve and deliver hot meals to the elderly in Hernando and Pasco counties, said George Popovich, director of senior services. The program's total budget is $1.5 million, which helped pay for about 78,000 meals in Hernando alone last year.

More than 200 people are already on a waiting list for the Meals on Wheels program, and any cut would almost certainly cause that list to grow, Popovich said. And it would likely halt plans to open another eat-in site in Spring Hill.

"The people who are going to be affected are the people who need that social support and that sustenance," he said. "That's what we're struggling with, and we'll face more struggles if funds are reduced."

Mid-Florida also runs Head Start programs for more than 970 children in Hernando, Sumter and Volusia counties. Of those, 282 are currently enrolled at two sites in Brooksville and Spring Hill, said director Heidi Rand. The federally funded program offers preschool, child care and other services for children from low-income families, as well as for disabled children from families of all incomes.

Rand said she has been told to prepare for a funding cut of between 8 percent and 12 percent, but it's unclear when and how that reduction would come. Mid-Florida's roughly $9 million annual Head Start grant started Oct. 1.

"The very last thing we want to do is dis-enroll children, so we just have to look at every other way we can possibly cut our expenses," Rand said.

That could include trimming hours of service and as many as 20 days from the school year.

Head Start currently runs from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., with extended care from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. The program follows the Hernando school district's 180-day calendar, but the Head Start grant only mandates 160 days per school year.

Those reductions would be tough for working families trying to make ends meet, but they are a better alternative to reducing the number of slots available, especially since 140 children are currently on the waiting list in Hernando alone, Rand said.

"It's the lesser of two evils," she said.

• • •

Hernando school officials started preparing last year for the potential cuts to Title I funding, used for programs at 10 schools with high numbers of low-income students.

Eric Williams, the district's director of school improvement, said the district set aside 9 percent of the $5.3 million Title I budget in case the worst-case scenario became a reality.

"We've had the money, thinking we can't spend it, but we were hoping (lawmakers) would come to some kind of agreement," Williams said.

The dollars pay for after-school tutoring, summer school programs and additional staffers such as instructional coaches and parent educators, among a host of other programs.

The potential cuts come as the district plans to expand Title I services next year to Explorer K-8 School in Spring Hill, one of the largest schools in the district. Title I money is allocated on a per-pupil basis, so that means a smaller pot of money would have to be divided up among 11 schools.

The hit would come for the 2013-14 school year. The district would not cut specific programs, Williams said. Rather, the reduction would be spread evenly across all of the schools, and administrators at each site would decide how to deal with the loss.

The budget cuts would also affect funding for exceptional student education programs, services for students learning English, and professional development opportunities for teachers.

"Forty percent of our total funding as a district is derived from federal sources, so 10 percent of that constitutes a pretty deep cut to what we use to run things around here," Williams said.

• • •

The cuts could mean a nearly $215,000 hit to the pot of money the Hernando County Housing Authority uses to provide rental assistance vouchers to low-income families, said executive director Don Singer.

That translates to 30 fewer vouchers than the 390 the authority is budgeted to provide, Singer said.

"The bottom line is we've got 30 vacancies where we could be helping 30 families, but we would not be able to," he said.

The agency is currently providing 366 vouchers, six more than would be available if the cuts become a reality. If that happens, Singer said, he's hopeful the authority could meet the budget when families leave the program through attrition.

In addition, Singer has been told to prepare for a $65,000 reduction to the roughly $265,000 budgeted to run the office for the year.

The potential effects on public health services at the county level are unclear.

Hernando County Health Department spokeswoman Ann-Gayl Ellis directed the Times to the Florida Department of Health, which did not provide any specifics.

But the county Health Department relies on several federal grants, including one to provide primary health care services.

The department also oversees the Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children. According to the White House, some 600,000 women nationwide would be dropped from the WIC program.

"Whatever comes down the line, we'll do the best we can to provide the services to our residents with the resources we have," Ellis said.

• • •

In addition to programs for needy residents, the cuts could directly affect the paychecks of National Guard personnel.

Nearly 1,000 Florida National Guard employees statewide would face furloughs for 20 percent of the year. In Hernando County, that means 37 technicians at the Army Aviation Support Facility on Spring Hill Drive would be furloughed for one day a week for the last 22 weeks of the fiscal year, said Master Sgt. Thomas Kielsbasa, a guard spokesman.

Fewer paid workdays for the instructors, mechanics and flight operations specialists who support UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters would raise concerns about readiness, Kielbasa said, and the impact would extend beyond the armory gates.

"It's not going to affect just that one person," Kielbasa said. "It's going to affect their families and the community they put money into."

Reach Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (352) 848-1431. Follow @tmarrerotimes and @hernandotimes on Twitter.

Comments

High court sides with businesses over workers

WASHINGTON — A divided Supreme Court ruled Monday that businesses can prohibit their workers from banding together in disputes over pay and conditions in the workplace, a decision that affects an estimated 25 million non-unionized employees. With the...
Updated: 5 minutes ago
Hillsborough school district, teachers move closer to pay deal

Hillsborough school district, teachers move closer to pay deal

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County School District and its teachers’ union moved closer to resolving their salary dispute during Monday’s negotiating session — but stopped short of reaching an agreement.The teachers, who have spent this school year work...
Updated: 7 minutes ago
Man recalls beating from Hernando deputies in federal excessive force trial

Man recalls beating from Hernando deputies in federal excessive force trial

TAMPA — The allegations at the core of Michael Bratt’s lawsuit against three Hernando County deputies have been repeated in court papers for eight years since his violent arrest.But on Monday, a federal jury in Tampa heard Bratt describe in his own w...
Updated: 12 minutes ago
Less than one year after historic flooding, Alafia River spills its banks again

Less than one year after historic flooding, Alafia River spills its banks again

LITHIA — Frank Rodriguez was still several hundred yards from his house Monday when he pulled his SUV to the side of the road and changed into a pair of beach shoes.Ahead of him, the way home along River Drive was submerged. He was spared a wade thro...
Updated: 26 minutes ago
One of Ybor City’s most historic blocks about to see construction of four-story boutique hotel

One of Ybor City’s most historic blocks about to see construction of four-story boutique hotel

TAMPA — Developers are poised to launch construction this week on one of Ybor City’s biggest new projects in years — a four-story, $50 million boutique hotel being created by a Chicago company that seeks out neighborhoods rich in color and character....
Updated: 1 hour ago
Rays journal: Christian Arroyo set to play first game at Tropicana Field

Rays journal: Christian Arroyo set to play first game at Tropicana Field

ST. PETERSBURG  — Christian Arroyo has watched more than 50 Rays games at Tropicana Field from the stands. Has been on the turf for his younger sister's gymnastics competitions and once, while it was in football configuration, to take grou...
Updated: 1 hour ago

FDLE: Pasco couple scammed elderly employer out of $480,000

TAMPA — A Pasco County couple face dozens of charges after the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said they stole more than $480,000 from their elderly employer.Chet Alan Ragsdale, 45, was arrested Monday on 28 counts of grand theft, 25 counts of ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
State softball: Academy at the Lakes romps in long-awaited semifinal

State softball: Academy at the Lakes romps in long-awaited semifinal

VERO BEACH — On a day when the weather at the state softball tournament finally said yes, Academy at the Lakes pitcher Alexis Kilfoyl said no to Lake Worth Christian.The hard-throwing right-hander fired a no-hitter in a Class 2A semifinal Monday morn...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Prepare yourselves: Golden Knights will be talk of the Stanley Cup final

Prepare yourselves: Golden Knights will be talk of the Stanley Cup final

WASHINGTON, D.C. — It's incredible. Unbelievable, really. Maybe the best sports story in this country and the sport of hockey since 1980's Miracle on Ice.And, as a side note, if the Lightning reaches the Stanley Cup final, everyone in the count...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Oscar Mayer asked people to tweet photos of hot dog toppings. They got toothpaste and Pepto.

Oscar Mayer asked people to tweet photos of hot dog toppings. They got toothpaste and Pepto.

Oscar Mayer last week asked people on Twitter to tweet a photo at them of toppings on their new hot dogs — which the company described as "improved."The payoff? A year’s supply of hot dogs hand-delivered by none other than the iconic Wienermobile.Sha...
Updated: 2 hours ago