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What you need to know for 11/19/2017

How Trump budget cuts would hurt locally

How Trump budget cuts would hurt locally

'This would be devastating'
How Trump budget cuts would hurt locally
PCB dredging operations continue on the Hudson River in Mechanicville on June 19, 2015.
Photographer: Daily Gazette file photo

The Fulmont Community Action Agency provides emergency food and financial assistance to the poor and elderly of Fulton and Montgomery counties, and it could lose more than $1 million in funding, if President Donald Trump's federal budget is approved as submitted to Congress.

"This would be devastating," Fulmont CAA Executive Director Denis Wilson said Thursday, as local agencies across the Capital Region struggled to absorb the implications of Trump's proposed cuts to social services and environmental programs.

In an indication of some Congressional opposition to the cuts, U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro -- a rising figure in the Congressional GOP majority who represents the North Country -- said she opposes the proposal, as submitted.

"While Congresswoman Stefanik believes there are savings to be found in every federal agency, she does not support the president's initial budget proposal, especially the proposed cuts to the State Department, the Department of Education and the (Environmental Protection Agency)," said Stefanik spokesman Tom Flanagin. "Furthermore, the president's budget would cut many important individual programs to our district that Congresswoman Stefanik supports."

RELATED: Trump proposes eliminating arts, humanities endowments

The federal budget is ultimately set by Congress, though it was unclear how Congress would proceed if Trump's plan were outright rejected. 

"During the budgeting process, Congresswoman Stefanik will work hard to ensure the needs and priorities of our district are met," Flanagin added.

Democratic lawmakers were unanimous in decrying the proposal, which would slash spending or simply eliminate dozens of social service, environmental, educational, scientific research and arts programs, while boosting spending on the military and veterans.

"I am not averse to increasing defense, particularly for the soldiers, but we've had a watch word in the past, those of us on the Democratic side -- make it half-and-half. If you're going to increase one, increase the other," said U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., who was in Clifton Park on Thursday.

"The bad news is the budget the president proposed, the good news is both Democrats and Republicans are saying they're not going to pass it," Schumer added.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo issued a statement calling the proposed cuts "dangerous, reckless and contemptuous of American values."

"The proposal takes a wrecking ball to the federal agencies that provide crucial support and relief to New Yorkers," he said.

Trump's proposal would eliminate the low-income home energy assistance program, which helps thousands of poor and elderly across the Capital Region pay winter home heating fuel bills. The program spends about $249 million each year in New York. The plan would cut home weatherization assistance and the community service block grant programs that are used by Fulton-Montgomery Community Action Agency, to stock food pantries and meet other emergency needs.

"My question is, if we don't deliver these services, who is going to?" Wilson asked. "The need will still be there. We're talking about people without food, people without heat."

Cutting those programs would probably mean cutting a dozen Action Agency jobs, Wilson added.

It is a situation that could impact all 49 community action agencies across New York state, as well as hundreds more across the country. The agencies are non-profit organizations that focus on helping people stabilize and improve their lives, using government funding.

"Every year, our agency impacts the lives of thousands of low-income individuals and families in Saratoga and Schenectady counties through our programs and services whose effects ripple throughout our communities," said Krystle Nowhitney-Hernandez, deputy director of the Saratoga County Economic Opportunity Council. "We are hopeful that the budget will not be passed as proposed, and we will be able to continue our work to improve the lives of those in need and strengthen the communities we serve."

Community action agencies will be lobbying to keep the funding, even though they also get money from elsewhere.

"My concern is this could lead to the unraveling of the tightly wound tapestry that supports these agencies," said Karla Digirolamo, executive director of the New York State Association of Community Action Agencies.

Trump's proposed 31 percent cut in funding for the EPA also drew criticism and raised questions about continued federal funding that goes to the state Department of Environmental Conservation, as well as the on-going EPA effort to assess and clean the Hudson River, following PCB contamination by General Electric plants.

"Whether we're looking at the PCB cleanup, stopping sewage overflows or clean drinking water, what we need is more, and not less, and what this budget gives us would be less," said Dan Shapley, water quality program director with Riverkeeper, which advocates to protect the Hudson River watershed.

New York counties have major concerns that the budget's message is that the federal government will no longer be a partner in funding social and community development programs, said Stephen Acquario, executive director of the state Association of Counties.

"The president is talking about $54 billion in cuts," Acquario said. "When the president is proposing that, he is really proposing cuts for funding of the state and local governments that provide those services."

The cuts counties are concerned about include Department of Agriculture grants that pay for rural water and wastewater projects, the HEAP program, community development block grants and the end of a program -- worth $210 million annually in New York state -- that reimburses local jails that are holding criminal illegal aliens.

"Providing these services while staying under the New York state tax cap would be nearly impossible," Acquario said.

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia also expressed concerns.

"The State Education Department receives $3.6 billion in federal funding each year, the vast majority of which is passed on to local school districts," she said in a joint statement with Regents Chancellor Betty A. Rosa . "Such substantial, wholesale cuts imperil important local programs. Eliminating widespread funding for after-school programs, community learning centers, teacher preparation, work study and cultural programs is a disservice to New York’s children.

Trump's budget would also eliminate funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, which has provided funding to programs at cultural institutions across the Capital Region, including Union and Skidmore colleges, the Yaddo artists' retreat in Saratoga Springs and the New York Folklore Society in Schenectady.

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 395-3086, swilliams@dailygazette.net or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

Gazette reporter Ned Campbell contributed to this story.

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