East Tennessee prepares for sequester impact

11:21 AM, Feb 28, 2013   |    comments
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Just a few days before the sequester deadline, the people and programs in East Tennessee that could feel the cuts are working through their options.

President Obama called the top leaders in Congress to the White House to talk about stopping forced spending cuts. That meeting is scheduled for Friday, the same day the cuts are scheduled to take effect.

The series of automatic cuts would trim $85 billion from federal budgets over seven months.

While that amount is just a small percentage of the overall federal budget, cuts could still have a major impact in East Tennessee.

One of the area's biggest employers, the Department of Energy, is preparing for potential cuts.

As previously reported, the National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees Y-12, said the automatic cuts could impact more than 5,000 contractor jobs.

Earlier this month, ORNL officials said funding could be reduced by five to eight percent if Congress doesn't agree on a budget. On Wednesday, officials said some of those losses would be offset by cost-cutting measures the lab has already made.

The community surrounding the DOE is watching closely.

"There's nobody in the city that doesn't have a direct connection to DOE, said Oak Ridge resident, Naomi Asher. "It's a real impact, not only because it's all those businesses, but as the lab... shrinks or as things change it's a real identity crisis, I think, for the community."

Asher also works for a non-profit, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA). She says her organization, which helps children, has been preparing in recent months in case the cuts happen.

"We've worked really, really hard for the last six months to a year to really build up a little bit, so that if this does happen, we'll be able to sustain. Our biggest thing is that service to these kids will not stop."

Mobile Meals, which serves hundreds of elderly citizens, could also feel the cuts.
"We're already having funding issues," said manager Alison Taylor. "It's going to make a bad situation worse. For the first time in years, I've got a waiting list. And I always swore that those words would never come out of my mouth, and they are, and I've got fifty people on it."

Like Asher's group, Taylor and her staff are working on a plan in advance.

"They're coming up with ways we can save money, how can we be more efficient. We're all working on that, how can we streamline things better?"

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