Sequestration cuts felt in Summit County
The federal government’s sequestration budget cuts are being felt in Summit County.
The Summit County Health Department is expecting a 5.1 percent cut to the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program and a 5 to 8 percent cut to the emergency preparedness program.
"On a day-to-day basis, with an 8 percent cut, the community is not going to see that," said Health Department Director Richard Bullough. "If the 8 percent cut is long term, we will have fewer resources to establish those mechanisms for response. But I do believe an 8 percent cut won’t make us less ready to respond. I think we can absorb it."
However, WIC, a supplemental nutrition program, is a direct services program, he said, meaning it services the public directly.
"Literally we’re working with clients one-on-one, doing evaluations and giving them the resources and foods they need," Bullough said. "We are not going to limit the number of clients we see, but I think we’ll shift the education component to doing it more electronically and less one-on-one. We’ll try to streamline our process to absorb some of that. And honestly, we’re already doing a lot of that."
Bullough said he had anticipated the cuts during the 2013 budgeting process, and had budgeted accordingly.
"So I think we’re in pretty good shape," he said.
County Manager Bob Jasper said the county built the cuts into the budget as well as they could, not knowing exactly what the county would be facing.
"We did some reorganization and I think we can handle what we expected at the time, but at this point, we don’t know and we won’t know for a while," he said.
To help offset the potential cuts, money unspent from last year’s WIC administrative budget, just over $1.2 million, can be moved to the 2013 budget.
"Between the state Health Department and local health departments, there is administrative money that goes unspent the previous fiscal year, and we’re able to spend forward 3 percent of that, so that’s what we’re going to do," said state WIC Director Chris Furner. "And that money is not impacted by the sequester, for which we’re grateful."
Furner said it is not yet clear which facet of WIC will be cut.
"We have been told to expect a 5.1 percent cut, but what we don’t know is which of our allocations will be cut," he said. "We have food money and administrative money, and we don’t know if each will take 2.5 percent or whether they’ll put it all on the administrative. We just know 5.1 percent."
Either way, Furner said WIC should be able to serve their participants with the 5.1 percent cut.
"But if the cuts are greater, we would have to potentially look at furloughs and other options, because putting benefits in the hands of our participants is our first goal," he said.
The state WIC program serves 68,000 people on a monthly basis.
"And we don’t only provide them with food benefits," he said. "We’re providing them with even more important nutrition education on healthy ways to instill positive health habits in their families by making healthy food choices."
Furner said the educational component of the program is very important.
"Every participant who comes through the program will meet a registered dietitian or nurse," he said. "In Utah, we feel it’s very important to hire those types of professionals."
In other states, he said, people with various backgrounds are hired and trained to do nutrition education.
"But we think the better way to do that is to actually go with a dietitian," he said. "However, we use registered nurses in some of our outlying areas where a dietitian is harder to come by."
Furner said he hopes to learn the final numbers by the end of March.
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District officials have discussed the issue for at least a decade.