LINCOLN — University of Nebraska officials say they are bracing for the impact of automatic federal budget cuts that took effect March 1.
Trouble is, nobody knows when, or how hard, the budget cuts might hit.
“The greatest short-term consequence is uncertainty,” said Matt Hammons, NU's director of federal relations.
Federally funded research and federal student aid are most likely to feel the impact of the sequestration budget cuts. The automatic across-the-board budget cuts were put in place in the midst of the debt ceiling standoff in August 2011 to force action to reduce the federal deficit.
Hammons joined the top research officers from the NU Medical Center and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in briefing the NU Board of Regents Friday on the potential effects of sequestration. Craig Munier, UNL's financial aid director, also spoke to the regents about the threat to student financial aid.
The research officers said the federal budget cuts will make competition for future grants even more fierce and could jeopardize the goal to dramatically expand research funding at both UNL and the med center.
The federal agencies that supply much of NU's research funding lack a common strategy for implementing the cuts, Hammons said. Among the plans in place:
» The National Institutes of Health likely will cut existing grants by 5 to 10 percent.
» The National Science Foundation won't reduce existing grants but will reduce the number of new grants.
» The Department of Defense plans to cut its university research awards by $300 million.
» The U.S. Department of Agriculture plans to trim $60 million from its national research awards — including cutting Nebraska agricultural research by $211,000 and Nebraska cooperative extension by $248,000.
Beyond the possible cuts, federal authorities are slowing the grant decision-making process until more is known about how the reductions will be implemented, said Jennifer Larsen, vice chancellor of research at the NU Medical Center.
“Everyone is waiting to see what Congress does,” she said.
Medical Center Chancellor Hal Maurer said the total reduction to the medical center would be about $7 million in 2013, including cuts in research funding and educational programs, as well as clinical revenue from Medicare.
Munier said no cuts in federal Pell Grants to low-income students are expected through the 2013-14 school year. Although other student aid programs, such as federal work study and a supplemental grant program, will be reduced by 5.1 percent next year, the impact to NU campuses appears minimal.
Munier said his office is notifying students now on the amounts of their financial aid awards for next year. He said he is worried about what might happen in 2014 and beyond.
“If we're sitting here a year from today not knowing what the Pell Grants will be, we would be in gridlock,” he said. “Just delaying that decision would have a devastating impact on students.”
NU campuses also face the impact of sequester-fed cuts to tuition assistance benefits for active members of the military.
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