Thursday April 4, 2013

NEAL P. GOSWAMI

Senior Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- Automatic cuts in the federal budget that began kicking in on March 1 are beginning to impact the local community.

The $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts, known as sequestration, has already cost the Lake Paran Association in North Bennington an AmeriCorps VISTA position, according to Executive Director Marlene Driscoll. The loss was part of a statewide cut to the program, according to Driscoll.

The position was part-time and cost the federal program just $1,500. The association paid an additional $600, Driscoll said.

"They didn’t get paid a lot. They really didn’t. Anyone who decides to take this on is doing it in part as volunteer work that gets paid a little," she said.

Driscoll said she has had an AmeriCorps Vista volunteer for the past three years. The worker typically helps from mid-June to mid-August. It will be difficult to maintain all of the activities that have taken place at Lake Paran without the assistance, Driscoll said.

"It was a tremendous help," she said. "It used to be a sleepy little place and now we kind of have a lot of stuff going on."

The AmeriCorps VISTA program was expected to help expand summer camps offered to area children. "My hopes were to expand our environmental camps and this VISTA worker would have created that and reached out into the community," Driscoll said. "It kind of just got chopped off the butcher block."

"This is how it affects us in little North Bennington at Lake Paran."

As a whole, Vermont is expected to see some more serious impacts from the spending cuts. According to information put out by the White House, cuts in Vermont include:

* $1,128,000 in funding for primary and secondary education, putting around 20 teacher and aide jobs at risk

* 30 less low-income students in Vermont will receive aid to help them finance the costs of college, and around 100 fewer students will get work-study jobs to help pay for college

* Head Start and Early Head Start services will be eliminated for about 100 children

* $1,068,000 in environmental funding to ensure clean water and air quality

* About 760 fewer children will receive vaccines for diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, whooping cough, influenza, and Hepatitis B due to reduced funding for vaccinations of about $52,000

Locally, it is unclear what the impact will be for many of the cuts included in sequestration. Robert Pini, a spokesman for United Counseling Service in Bennington, which runs the Bennington County Head Start program, said they are preparing for cuts.

"We think Head Start could be cut by sequestration by up to 5 percent," Pini said. "We don’t know yet if it will happen."

Nonetheless, Pini said UCS is working on ways to reduce harm if the cuts transpire. "In the event it does take place our goal would be to minimize the impact locally," he said.

Meanwhile, for Driscoll, the impact of sequestration is also impacting her 26-year-old son who is currently deployed to Afghanistan with the Army. She said her son’s breakfast was recently eliminated and replaced with brunch, to combine two meals. Several days later breakfast was restored, but lunch was eliminated, Driscoll said.

"That’s a direct impact. I think this is crazy," she said. "I’m mailing him care packages with granola bars and stuff. It starting to sound like he really needs it."

Contact Neal P. Goswami at ngoswami@benningtonbanner.com, or follow on Twitter: @nealgoswami