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STATE

Sequestration, officials asked what it means for NH

Sequestration. It’s the latest buzzword in the battle over economic policy in Washington D.C. The automatic cuts to the federal budget went into effect last week with little apparent effort by Congress or the White House to reach an compromise. As for what sequestration means for the Monadnock region, it’s hard to say.

“I really don’t believe there will be an immediate impact,” said Peterborough Town Administrator Pam Brenner. “We don’t get a whole lot of federal assistance. As I understand it, I see little impact on the town.... It can’t be helping our economy to be conducting our political life like this.”

“We’re all just sort of waiting,” said ConVal School Superintendent Dick Bergeron. “I don’t know how it will affect ConVal in any way yet.”

“It means a 2 percent reduction in Medicare payments,” said Rich Scheinblum, chief financial officer at Monadnock Community Hospital. “That’s about $400,000 a year.”

But Scheinblum said the hospital had planned for the reduction when it did its budget for the year. He said the Simpson Bowles Act of 2011 had mandated that the cuts would happen if Congress and the president didn’t reach agreement on the budget, so the hospital accounted for the possibility.

“We ended up budgeting for a loss this year of about $300,000 from operations,” Scheinblum said. “We are doing better than budget so far this year.”

He said the hospital has not had to cut back on programs or staff due to sequestration. The bigger problem, according to Scheinblum, is that Medicare represents about 40 percent of the hospital’s business, but it provides only about 20 percent of the hospital’s reimbursements, even before the cuts.

“We try to stay abreast of these things,” Scheinblum said. “We’re already starting the budget for our fiscal year that starts Oct. 1. We’ll make adjustments based on what happens. We’ve tried to be proactive so we don’t have to make rash, quick decisions.”

Even elected officials don’t have a firm handle on just what the cuts will mean.

“We can’t know with exact certainty how these cuts will impact every community in the Granite State,” wrote U.S. Rep. Ann Kuster, D.-NH., in an email to the Ledger-Transcript on Wednesday. “What we do know is that making indiscriminate, across-the-board spending cuts is irresponsible and will hurt middle class families and businesses. Unless Republicans and Democrats can reach a balanced compromise to stop the sequester, these cuts will start hitting New Hampshire families and critical priorities like education, job training and medical research.”

Kuster cited a memo from the White House, which had prepared a report on the sequestration impact for each state. According to that document, New Hampshire stands to lose more than $1 million this year in education funding, about $1.5 million in environmental funding for clean air and water quality, $359,000 in grants for fish and wildlife protection and more than half a million dollars in public health funding. It also states that about 1,000 civilian Department of Defense employees would be furloughed and Army base funding in the state cut by about $1 million.

Kuster went on to say, “There’s no question that we need to cut spending and reduce the deficit. But we have to do it in a balanced, responsible way by targeting waste and inefficiency — not by cutting priorities that we need to help create jobs and grow the economy. I remain committed to working with both Republicans and Democrats to pass a balanced, bipartisan plan that will stop these reckless cuts, responsibly reduce the deficit, and protect middle class families and businesses in New Hampshire.”

Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or danderson@ledgertranscript.com. He’s on Twitter at @DaveAndersonMLT.

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