Local Effects of Sequestration UnclearSubmitted: 02/25/2013
Story By Lex Gray

RHINELANDER - First, we went off the fiscal cliff. Then, Washington lawmakers pulled us back up -- but not for long.

Now, the country faces what politicians are calling "the sequester."

If Congress can't reach a deal by Friday, $85 billion will be cut from public programs.

In Wisconsin, that includes schools, the military, and programs for the environment, seniors, public health, child care, and more.

That comes from a 50-page report from the White House on how Wisconsin would be affected.

The report didn't give an exact or estimated dollar amount, and no one around the Northwoods seems to know exactly how they'd be affected, either.

That's true for Dianne Jacobson, director of the Oneida County Department on Aging.

The federal government funds twenty percent of her department.

"That's a significant amount but as I said, we don't want anyone that we serve to worry, 'Oh they're going to cut that program or they're going to reduce that.'" Jacobson said. "We always will have to look based on the funding that we get, but at this point, we are not anticipating a cut of our services."

Jacobson encourages seniors to talk to their local representatives.

Congressman Sean Duffy spoke to us on the phone from Washington, D.C.

He said he wants to prevent cuts to essential services, but the compromise should be about cutting spending, not raising taxes, as the President has proposed.

"We think we have to get our spending under control. And if we don't, you can't tax your way out of this problem," Duffy said. "I'm trying to look for ways, per the prior agreement with the President, to get us to a place where we can actually live within our means. And that means to start cutting the fat and waste within the federal budget."

The Federal Aviation Administration would be included in the cuts, but the Rhinelander-Oneida County Airport is so small, it likely wouldn't be affected.

But the Chippewa Valley Airport would close.

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PARK FALLS - Many people in the Northwoods go to church on Sunday mornings, and for some of them it may be begrudgingly.

But there are plenty of people, often elderly or sick, who want to go to church but have a hard time doing so.

Peace Lutheran Church in Park Falls wanted to change that. Since May, they've been undergoing some construction. On Sunday, the church had a dedication ceremony for a special new addition—an elevator.

Now people like 100-year-old Ruth Olson can worship with greater ease.

Before the elevator, Olson said she would get to church by literally pulling herself up the stairs using the railing.

Olson's story is like many. As the older population grows, church buildings don't evolve with them. The buildings are often old and sometimes lack accomodating features for the elderly or disabled, and takes money to update the buildings.

"We have churches where the people are getting older and it's very hard for people to get around," said Rev. Dwayne Lueck, the district president for the North Wisconsin District Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod.

Some parishoners couldn't do what Ruth used to do, and so they would have to worship at a service held across the street in the day care center, instead of in the beautiful church.

"Now all the services can be over here," said Rev. Dale Heinlein, the pastor of Peace Lutheran.

The congregation at Peace Lutheran believed in an elevator, so they paid for it.

"We been talking and planning this for...a long time," said Dick Ross, president of the congregation. "Pretty hard for some of the people, and I think you saw them, pretty hard for some of the people to worship here, so it was time."

"You can see it in their eyes more than anything when they know they have access and when they come up here and just enter the building and no steps, it's a great thing," said Buzz Peters, a parishoner who helped design the new elevator and space.

"We can finally have access for everybody to get into the worship facility, free access, that's what this is all about," Heinlein said. 

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MADISON - Two Republican legislators have created a bill that would shift federal road dollars from local projects to major state projects. Opponents say the bill is a backdoor attempt to make sure federal prevailing wage requirements don't apply to local projects.

The bill sponsored by Sen. Duey Stroebel and Rep. Rob Brooks would transfer $47 million in federal funding from local projects to state projects and move $47 million in state dollars from state projects to local ones.

Stroebel says the swap would save money by removing local projects from burdensome federal regulations.

He has been a vocal advocate for doing away with prevailing wage statutes, which require minimum salaries for workers on government-funded construction projects.

Spokeswomen for GOP legislative leaders didn't respond to inquiries about the bill's chances.

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WOODRUFF - If they haven't already, people will start bringing out the Christmas decorations.

And it wouldn't be complete without that perfect Christmas tree.

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MINOCQUA - It's that time of year again.

Minocqua kicked off its' Christmas celebrations Saturday.

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MADISON - New state data show that nearly 15,000 Wisconsin residents lost access to food stamps in the first three months of a new law that requires some recipients to seek jobs.

The Wisconsin State Journal reports (http://bit.ly/1Ple8j5 ) it obtained the data from the Department of Human Services under the state open records law.

The rule took effect in April for participants in the state's food stamp program, FoodShare. It requires able-bodied adults without children living at home to work at least 80 hours a month or look for work to stay in the program.

The DHS data show about 25 percent of the 60,000 recipients eligible to work were dropped from the program between July and September. But about 4,500 found work through a new job training program for FoodShare recipients.

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MINOCQUA - With only 27 days until Christmas, people filled the stores this weekend to start checking names off their gift list.

But where are people buying their gifts from?

Small business owners in Minocqua were pleasantly surprised this Friday.

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MOUNT HOREB - A southern Wisconsin school district has cancelled plans for elementary school students to read a children's book about a transgender girl after a group threatened to sue.

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