The Free Press, Mankato, MN

March 25, 2013

Local vets programs were prepared for cuts

By Brian Ojanpa
Free Press Staff Writer

MANKATO — Local veterans who served their country aren’t being underserved by federal government sequester cuts — at least not yet.

The two main areas of community impact — programs for homeless disabled vets and for active military receiving tuition assistance — are so far staying ahead of the fiscal fallout, program officials said.

“We were encouraged to prepare for this in advance,” said Sue Worlds, regional director for Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans. “Actually, we did a cut to prepare for a cut.”

Worlds said the Department of Housing and Urban Development told her last fall the cuts were likely to arrive.

The only local council program affected by the 3 percent sequester cut is a Mankato townhome housing facility near River Hills Mall for 11 disabled and formerly homeless vets.

Worlds said inconsistent funding goes with the territory of operating nonprofit organizations, and being proactive is key for dealing with anticipated shortfalls.

“It’s very difficult. First, you look at your overall budget and try to make it up with cuts or with fundraising, which we are doing.”

She said absorbing the sequester-induced cuts involve more prudent attention to utilities usage and ratcheting up the organization’s fundraising.

“We make sure (the cuts) don’t affect the veterans as individuals.”

At Minnesota State University, the sequester’s impact on a federal tuition assistance program for students in the military is “fairly minimal” so far, said Dave Schrader, regional coordinator with the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs.

Schrader said at MSU the program affects students in the Army Reserve and National Guard, whose tuition aid for the current semester had already been locked in before the sequester went into effect.

Schrader said the students’ assistance will be virtually unaffected if the suspended program kicks back in before the next funding period rolls around.

The military tuition assistance program gives student soldiers up to $4,500 annually to work toward high school and college diplomas, and up to $250 per credit at schools on semester systems.

Nationwide, 200,000 soldiers used the program in 2012 at a cost of $373 million.

Earlier this month $85 billion in overall federal government sequester cuts went into effect.

Sequestration is the employment of automatic, across-the-board spending cuts in the face of annual budget deficits.