Pottsville, Schuylkill County housing authorities lay off employees in response to federal cuts

From The Republican Herald
By Stephen j. Pytak
May 11, 2013

Federal funding cuts have put the city and county housing authorities in a financial stranglehold.

With hundreds of thousands of dollars less to work with, the Schuylkill County Housing Authority will lay off six full-time employees Monday. The Pottsville Housing Authority laid off one this month.

"This is one of the programs that they shouldn't cut and they shouldn't hit this hard," Thomas F. Hale, executive director of the Schuylkill County Housing Authority, based in Schuylkill Haven, said Thursday.

"The ones who are going to be hit the hardest are the working poor," Craig S.L. Shields, executive director of the Pottsville Housing Authority, said Thursday.

Federal programs and their state and local beneficiaries began grappling with $85.4 billion in cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011, starting March 1.

This sequestration is causing a lot of consternation among housing authorities across the state. The cuts are causing them to cut back on several facets of their work.

"Sequestration" is becoming a popular term for budget battles. It's the act of making a general cut in government spending, according to The New Oxford American Dictionary, Third Edition.

The Washington Post recently measured the projected impact on housing and urban development.

"125,000 individuals and families could lose assistance from the Housing Choice Voucher program and 100,000 formerly homeless people would be removed from their current housing or shelter programs, in addition to likely layoffs for HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) employees," according to washingtonpost.com.

"I am well aware of the situation our local Housing Authorities are facing as a result of the irresponsible sequestration cuts," U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-17, said Thursday.

"Nearly every housing authority is looking at service reductions to vulnerable people. These are up to and including pulling housing-choice vouchers back, evicting people who are currently stably housed and reducing maintenance," Cartwright said.

The sequester must be repealed, Cartwright said.

"In order to stop the sequester-level cuts in the continuing resolution that are eliminating programs that are successful at helping people in the face of growing need, we must work to repeal the sequester," Cartwright said.

In an effort to make that happen, he's supporting House Resolution 900 and wants the House leadership to bring it to the floor for a vote.

"I am trying my dead level best to make this happen," Cartwright said.

Housing authorities receive revenue from the rents they collect from public housing. They also receive federal subsidy, according to Shields.

This year, HUD has cut the Schuylkill County Housing Authority budget by $835,118, according to figures Hale provided.

Meanwhile, HUD cut Pottsville Housing Authority's budget by $232,572, according to figures provided by Henry Schlitzer, the authority's comptroller.

The authorities released their budget figures for the past few years to show the trend of dwindling federal subsidy. Federal funding makes up more than 50 percent of the revenue these authorities receive, according to Hale.

"Even before this sequester, they've been cutting us. They haven't funded us 100 percent for years. In the last five years, the funding has been going down every year, and this year they're really killing us. This is the biggest drop we've had," Shields said.

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