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Coming federal budget cuts will have impact throughout California

  • McClatchy Newspapers
  • Published Wednesday, April 13, 2011, at 8:23 p.m.

WASHINGTON — California firefighters, college students and the children of prison inmates will be doing their part to reduce the federal deficit, whether they like it or not.

All told, hundreds of federal programs will be cut in a wide-ranging package intended to save $38.5 billion. One by one, the cuts bring home the abstract political exercise that has captivated Capitol Hill.

"Obviously, it's very concerning to us," Tolan Dworak, a fire department battalion chief in the Placer County town of Lincoln, said Tuesday when informed of the fire program cuts.

The word "California" does not appear in the 459-page bill set for House and Senate approval this week. The state will, however, feel diverse impacts as federal programs shrink or disappear altogether.

Some cuts, in truth, are painless and pretend, like Congress taking credit for saving $6.2 billion in unspent funds from the 2010 census.

Some cuts are targeted like a laser beam, such as the $8 million taken from San Francisco's Presidio Trust. Still other cuts alter, more broadly, how programs work.

By eliminating federal Pell grants for summer school, for instance, Congress saves upward of $800 million. Lawmakers say the reduction will help ensure long-term solvency of the student aid program serving low-income families.

More than 800,000 students attending California colleges received Pell grants last year, Education Department records show. The program's particularly popular at some schools. Fresno City College and Sacramento's American River College, for instance, are both among the state's leaders with more than 11,000 students at each receiving Pell grants.

The Obama administration had previously made a similar proposal to curtail summer session Pell grants, though liberals still don't like the idea.

"Talking about Pell grants, we should invest in kids, not follow GOP plan to make college more expensive," Rep. George Miller of Concord, the senior Democrat on the House Education and Labor Committee, declared via Twitter.

Other programs take a specific percentage cut.

Federal legal aid funding, for instance, suffers a $15.8 million reduction that will be absorbed by individual offices nationwide. California Rural Legal Assistance and 10 other federally funded legal aid organizations in the state will all feel the pinch.

"Each grantee will take the equivalent of a 3.8 percent cut," Legal Services Corp. spokesman Stephen Barr said Tuesday.

Still other cuts will shrink what's available to compete for. That means some close calls for cities and counties that slipped in under the wire.

On Friday, for instance, the Lincoln Fire Department learned it would get a $183,750 federal grant to help purchase radios and other communication gear. The money comes from a program that has likewise provided grants this year to fire departments in Fresno, Merced and Morro Bay, among others.

Several hours after the Lincoln grant was awarded, White House and congressional negotiators finalized the budget deal that includes a $786 million reduction in the so-called "first responder" grants issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Lincoln will apparently still get its money, but other California fire departments almost certainly will have a harder time competing for future funds.

"It's very useful," Dworak said of the federal dollars.

Education, health and labor programs account for about half of the overall cuts.

Within the Education Department alone, the bill terminates what Republicans characterized Tuesday as "more than 40 ineffective programs." Many are very modest in size, such as an Even Start family literacy program that provided $7.3 million to California last year.

Some cuts target populations with little political presence.

By ending a Mentoring Children of Prisoners program, lawmakers save $49 million. Since its start in 2003, the program has provided grants to groups including Comprehensive Youth Services of Fresno and the Amador-Tuolumne Community Action Agency.

McClatchy Newspapers 2011

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