The Maneater

Sequester threatens MU research, student financial aid

The Columbia Regional Airport may also close its air traffic tower

David Freyermuth / Graphic Designer

MU is expected to lose approximately $17 million in funding after sequestration cuts took effect Friday.

Cuts to the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, Department of Defense and United States Department of Agriculture could lead to MU losing research grants, according to a report from the UM System’s Government Relations office. These grants currently fund numerous projects, including some of MU’s cancer, cardiovascular, psychology, nanotechnology and insect research.

Students’ financial aid is also at risk. The report estimated 1,166 Missouri students would lose federal work-study benefits and nearly 2,000 students would lose federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants. Pell grants will not be affected by the sequester, although fees for subsidized and unsubsidized Stafford loans and PLUS loans will increase.

As a whole, the UM System will lose about $25 million in funding in Fiscal Year 2013.

Before the sequestration took effect, leaders in the Missouri Students Association and Graduate Professional Council sent letters to Missouri representatives and senators urging them to spare higher education funding as they tried to reduce the deficit.

“The proposed cuts are a blunt instrument that would slash valuable funding to programs, regardless of the success of the programs or the return generated by federal investment in education,” the letter stated. "Members of both parties agree that long-term deficit reduction should include, not eliminate, investment in higher education.”

Outside of MU, cuts to the Federal Aviation Administration are expected to close Columbia Regional Airport’s air traffic tower. City of Columbia spokeswoman Toni Messina said flights will continue to proceed normally, with pilots communicating with air traffic control towers in Springfield and Kansas City instead of Columbia.

“Air traffic can still come in and out,” Messina said. “We don’t anticipate that flights will end."

Messina said although flights will continue, losing Columbia’s air traffic tower could have some negative repercussions. Recently, a private plane had an engine fire while flying near Columbia and was able to communicate with the Columbia tower to arrange for an emergency landing at the airport. If the tower closes, pilots dealing with similar emergencies would have to arrange to land elsewhere.

“I don’t know if I want to call (closing the air tower) minor,” Messina said. “It’s not going to keep our traffic down, but you worry about cuts that do anything that may impact passenger safety.”

The airport had more than 25,000 takeoffs and landings and served more than 38,500 patrons in 2012, according to airport records.

According to the White House, across-the-board cuts would also reduce Missouri’s military, environmental and K-12 education spending by millions of dollars. Law enforcement, job search, nutrition assistance, public health and domestic violence programs would also experience smaller cuts.

The sequestration cuts are a provision in Congress’ 2011 debt ceiling negotiation. The legislation said if Congress did not produce $1.2 trillion in deficit savings, the government would instate automatic across-the-board budget cuts to defense and non-defense spending. Although the threat of cuts was designed to be so unpopular that Congress was forced to compromise, legislators failed to reach an agreement before they took effect.

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., criticized President Barack Obama for only proposing tax increases as a solution to sequestration.

“Spending cuts will happen,” Blunt said in a news release. “The president first proposed sequestration, and he’s had months to plan for these cuts. Unfortunately, the president appears to have ignored this looming deadline, and he refuses to propose anything to replace the sequester other than tax hikes.”

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Bill Nelson, D-Fla., introduced legislation on Friday that would cut legislators’ salaries if federal employees face furloughs during the sequester.

“The federal workforce is looking at furloughs that would result in a sizable pay cut, and there's absolutely no reason members of Congress should exempt themselves,” McCaskill said.

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