Politics

March 21, 2013

New spending deal spells mixed news for Maine

Many federally funded programs around the state are still bracing for cutbacks in their budgets.

By Kevin Miller kmiller@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

WASHINGTON – Federally funded programs and government workers across Maine got mixed news Thursday as they braced to absorb the state's share of $85 billion in spending cuts despite a congressional deal to avoid a government shutdown.

click image to enlarge

In this 2003 file photo, a KC-135 refueling tanker takes off at Bangor International Airport as other planes sit below the airport control tower. Bangor International Airport got preliminary word that its air traffic control tower may continue operating 24 hours a day until July as the Federal Aviation Administration decides how to implement spending cuts.

John Patriquin / Staff Photographer

An estimated 7,000 civilian employees of the Department of Defense in Maine will not receive furlough notices for another two weeks as the Pentagon reviews a six-month budget bill that got final approval in Congress.

Furlough notices had been expected to go out starting Thursday.

Bangor International Airport got preliminary word that its air traffic control tower may continue operating 24 hours a day until July as the Federal Aviation Administration decides how to implement spending cuts. Bangor International was one of 60 airports nationwide that faced losing overnight air traffic control shifts starting next month.

Other federally funded programs were bracing for cuts.

Spectrum Generations, the Agency on Aging that serves elderly residents in central Maine, is facing the loss of $106,000 in federal money on top of a mid-year funding shortfall due to increasing demand. As a result, the agency is scaling back its nutritional and counseling programs.

Beginning April 1, senior citizens and other homebound people in the Meals on Wheels program will receive only one delivery per week -- consisting of one hot meal and four frozen meals -- rather than the twice-weekly deliveries they now get.

The agency will also have a waiting list for Meals on Wheels, for the first time, and expects to serve nearly 18,000 fewer meals in its community dining rooms, said Spectrum Generations CEO and President Gerard Queally.

Spectrum Generations also will reduce the hours it operates counseling programs for senior citizens, disabled people and family care-givers who are trying to keep their loved ones at home.

Maine's public school districts expect to lose about $7.3 million in federal funding in the next fiscal year, much of it to support programs for children with disabilities and those who require remedial education in math and reading.

And Acadia National Park officials plan to delay the opening of the Park Loop Road for one month and reduce offerings to visitors.

Those cuts are part of the $85 billion "sequester" that took effect March 1 after Congress failed to find an alternative deficit reduction plan.

The six-month spending bill approved by the Senate on Wednesday and the House on Thursday keeps the government running through Sept. 30 but kept the spending cuts. The bill did authorize new spending for the Department of Defense, including $4 billion for new Navy destroyers now built at Bath Iron Works.

The Pentagon responded to the new funding by delaying furlough notices to many of its 800,000 employees nationwide. About 4,700 of those employees work at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery while 600 work for the Maine National Guard.

At Bangor International Airport, director Tony Caruso said he was notified Thursday that the air traffic control tower would likely continue operating overnight until July as the Federal Aviation Administration reviews the situation. While the airport would remain open around the clock even if the tower were not staffed overnight, flights into and out of Bangor would have to receive directions from Logan International Airport in Boston.

Caruso said he believes that Bangor has a good case to maintain 24-hour tower staffing. The airport is an emergency landing strip for trans-Atlantic flights, operates a round-the-clock "port of entry," is a frequent stopover for military troop flights and is the home base for a Maine Air National Guard re-fueling program.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at:

kmiller@mainetoday.com

On Twitter: @KevinMillerDC

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