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TUESDAY, DECEMBER 13, 2005
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State loses with proposed '06 cuts

By M.J. Ellington
DAILY Staff Writer

mjellington@decaturdaily.com (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — Alabama could lose almost $24 million for education, children, family and other programs under proposed 2006 federal spending cuts that Congress may take up before Christmas break.

The issue is linked to passing Hurricane Katrina disaster relief legislation, which political observers say may speed along an agreement on spending for domestic programs. Political observers are concerned that details of the plan may pass before the public and many members of Congress have time to understand what the changes involve.

"Mr. Scrooge may win out and the Tiny Tim's of the world may suffer," said Robert Greenstein, executive director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. "Given the problems on the Gulf Coast, I sense that there is more of a sense of urgency on these measures."

If Alabama education and social service programs receive cuts at 1 percent, the lowest level of cuts suggested by the U.S. House budget, state programs would lose $17.7 million in elementary and secondary education, $761,000 in adult education, $5.4 million in children and family services through the Department of Human Resources and 500 slots for children in state Head Start programs.

Other proposed cuts could trim 1,500 slots from state Section 8 housing vouchers for low-income families, $1.3 million from state child care assistance programs, $317,000 from Ryan White AIDS/HIV funds, $784,000 in maternal and health funds to provide care for pregnant women, preventive care for children and related services, and $6.4 million in community development funds. The report did not break out Medicaid cut totals by state, but estimates averaged about $9 billion for 2006.

A central issue is how to protect programs that help low- and middle-income Americans, which the U.S. Senate wants, while grappling with the U.S. House's interest in tax cuts for people who make more than $200,000 per year, subsidies for managed care companies that participate in the new Medicare prescription drug program that begins in January and Homeland Security increases.

Greenstein and other policy analysts for the center broke down estimated cuts to domestic programs at a telephone news conference Monday.

While many parts of the federal budget discussion aren't likely to come up before January, the proposed domestic cuts are part of a U.S. House-Senate joint committee discussion to reconcile differences in House and Senate versions of the federal budget.

Greenstein criticized aspects of the proposed domestic budget that he said give most of the domestic budget increases to Homeland Security while level funding or cutting programs to help people in need across the country. Military spending and Homeland Security spending portions of the budget are five times greater than those for other domestic programs that Greenstein said are now budgeted at the same level as in 2001.

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