March 3, 2013

Federal Sequester Goes into Effect

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The “sequester” — a series of across-the-board federal budget cuts that University administrators say could lead to cuts in Cornell’s research funding, jobs and financial aid supported by federal funds — was formally approved Friday, and will begin taking effect as early as this year.

The sequester — which will cut $1.2 trillion dollars from the budget in the next 10 years, including $85 billion this fiscal year — was put into place after a battle in Congress to balance the federal budget. As a part of the Budget Control Act of 2011, congressional leaders were asked to either come to an agreement on how to decrease national spending or else make the across-the-board cuts.

Among the government agencies that could be affected are the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Health, both of which provide research funding to Cornell, according to Robert Buhrman Ph.D. ’73, senior vice provost for research.

In 2012, Buhrman said, Cornell received $466 million for research from the federal government, almost 80 percent of all University research funds. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, federal research spending will be trimmed by more than $12 billion this year, and by $95 billion over the next nine years as a result of the sequester.

“[The reduction] is not cataclysmic, but if you are the individual whose pro­­­­ject is stopped, it is cataclysmic,” Buhrman told The Sun on Feb. 20.

Financial aid could also be affected by the sequester. Although Pell Grants are exempt from budget cuts, the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant — a federal program that provides additional aid to undergraduate students who demonstrate “exceptional need” for aid — and Federal Work-Study programs will receive cuts. More than 100,000 students will no longer qualify for aid, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Federal Work Study provides part-time employment to students to help pay for their educational expenses, according to the Office of Financial Aid and Student Employment’s website. In the 2009-10 academic year, FWS-eligible students earned nearly $3 million working on campus, the website states.

Diane Miller, director of federal government relations, previously told The Sun that agencies affected by the sequester have not decided how these cuts will be distributed, which could lead to either a decrease in the number of programs they fund, affect the size of their grants or redirect funds entirely.

“Would you have to lay somebody off if you lost five percent of your grant? It depends how big your grant is. If it $100,000, then probably not. But if it is a $10 million grant, then probably,” Miller said to The Sun in February.

Miller also said that because the University will be recieving fewer grants, federal funding will be difficult to distribute.

“Our scientists are very good at obtaining funding, but [if the sequester is implemented], there would be fewer opportunities and less money to compete for,” Miller said.

Original Author: Caroline Flax