Clovis News

Valley, state hit by federal cuts

WASHINGTON -- California firefighters, Fresno college students and the children of prison inmates will be doing their part to reduce the federal deficit, whether they like it or not.

In all, hundreds of federal programs will be cut in a wide-ranging package intended to save $38.5 billion.

By eliminating federal Pell grants for summer school, for instance, Congress saves upward of $800 million. Lawmakers say the reduction will help ensure long-term solvency of the student aid program serving low-income families.

More than 800,000 students attending California colleges received Pell grants last year, Education Department records show. Fresno City College, for instance, is among the state's leaders with more than 11,000 students receiving Pell grants.

The Obama administration had previously made a similar proposal to curtail summer session Pell grants, although liberals still don't like the idea.

Education, health and labor programs account for about half of the overall cuts.

Within the Education Department alone, the bill terminates what Republicans characterized Tuesday as "more than 40 ineffective programs." Many are very modest in size, such as an Even Start family literacy program that provided $7.3 million to California last year, including for literacy programs in Fresno, Clovis and Caruthers.

Some cuts target populations with little political presence.

By ending a Mentoring Children of Prisoners program, lawmakers save $49 million. Since its start in 2003, the program has provided grants to groups including Comprehensive Youth Services of Fresno.

Other programs take a specific percentage cut.

Federal legal aid funding, for instance, suffers a $15.8 million reduction that will be absorbed by individual offices nationwide. California Rural Legal Assistance and 10 other federally funded legal aid organizations in the state all will feel the pinch.

"Each grantee will take the equivalent of a 3.8% cut," Legal Services Corp. spokesman Stephen Barr said Tuesday.

Still other cuts will shrink what is available to compete for.

That means some close calls for cities and counties that slipped in under the wire.

On Friday, for instance, the Lincoln Fire Department in Placer County learned it would get a $183,750 federal grant to help purchase radios and other communication gear. The money comes from a program that has provided grants this year to fire departments in Fresno, Merced and Morro Bay. Fresno, for example, was awarded $236,000 last month. Porterville received a $54,000 grant in February.

Several hours after the Lincoln grant was awarded, White House and congressional negotiators finalized the budget deal that includes a $786 million reduction in the so-called "first responder" grants issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Fresno, Porterville and Lincoln apparently will still get their money, but other California fire departments almost certainly will have a harder time competing for future funds.