At last week’s 25 x 25 forum, I asked a long-time Ag Department employee, “Still got a job?” Smiling, he gave me his crossed fingers “luck” sign. He’s one of the luckier ones.
That same day, workers at a county Soil and Water Conservation District office got the word that they were being layed off – at least temporarily. In Pennsylvania, each round of the state’s budgetary battle brought a new round of lay-offs and budget slashing at many levels.
All across America, I’m hearing of similar severe cuts and major restructuring by state Ag Departments, Cooperative Extension, Soil and Water Conservation Districts, veterinary schools and more.
Yes, the recession may have bottomed out. But state and county tax revenues – that have developed and supported services to consumers and farmers over the last 30 years – are still nose-diving. And unlike Uncle Sam who can simply print more dollars – and merrily eat into our children’s future, most states and local governments are required to balance their budgets.
The ironic twist
The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, U.S. EPA and the seven-state Chesapeake Bay Program gave great ballyhoo to the recently announced $12.9 million Innovative Nutrient and Sediment Reduction grants. The catch: Recipients must cough up $19.4 million in matching funds. With few exceptions, matching funds are almost as scarce as hen’s teeth.
With few exceptions, all projects by Penn State, local conservation districts in all the involved states, the Capital Area Resource Conservation and Development Council and the Finger Lakes Resource Conservation and Development Council require on-the-ground technical assistance and/or staff to make their projects happen. Yet the people and skills to make them happen are being slowly erased from the budgets.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Lancaster Farmland Trust probably have the bucks in hand for their matching grants. Without the necessary on-the-ground expertise, they typically pay others to do the job.
When we slash away at necessary human resources, don’t expect as much progress with improving environmental resources.
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