The following is a joint guest column from Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy, Councilman John Mootooveren, Councilwoman Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas, Councilman Ed Kosiur and Councilman John M. Polimeni.
The federal budget has received little attention in news coverage. President Trump’s 2018 budget proposal should concern and unite us all, which contains more than $54 billion in cuts to domestic programs. We are calling attention to these budget cuts which will impact Schenectady through the elimination or cuts of programs or staffing. The worst-case scenario would be a property tax increase. While we recognize the need for fiscal restraint and balanced budgets, these objectives should not be accomplished on the backs of cities like Schenectady, which are economic drivers for our country. There are many other areas in the budget which can be cut. It is vital that residents understand the impact of the President’s budget cuts on Schenectady.
The President’s budget includes a 13% or $9 billion reduction in education and workforce spending. These cuts include $2.4 billion for teacher training and professional development programs that help communities with high poverty, like Schenectady. The outcome would be a decrease in teacher quality, negatively impacting our children’s educations and futures. Further hurting the children of Schenectady is the proposed elimination of $1.2 billion in funding for afterschool and summer programs. An additional $230 million in funding for museums and libraries is on the chopping-block. Although the Schenectady City School District has received an increase in state aid for 2017-18, our schools remain underfunded. Can we permit the federal government to put our children’s future at risk as well?
President Trump’s budget calls for a decrease of $2.5 billion or 21% in labor programs. Our children and young adults would be negatively affected by the elimination of the Job Corps training centers, a program which provides our youth with career development training, often provided by non-profit groups which provide much needed support in our community. Funding for senior’s is also targeted with the elimination of $434 million for the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) which helps low-income and unemployed seniors transition to unsubsidized jobs. There is a large senior population within Schenectady and these cherished individuals would be harmed.
The Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, very important to Schenectady, was initially proposed to be cut completely. However, in a budget modification, CDBG is proposed to be cut 50%. CDBG funds are used to provide safe, affordable housing to our community through groups such as Better Neighborhoods, Inc. and Habitat for Humanity. This funding covers home improvement repairs, homeownership counseling programs, and property rehabilitation for dilapidated buildings, which are then sold by these organizations to qualified residents, helping to reduce property taxes by getting the properties back on the tax roll. The CDBG also funds programs such as lead-based paint abatement, a problem which plagues many of the century-old houses in our city. The elimination of this program would put our children and neighbors at risk of lead poisoning.
A severe cut in CDBG funds would also negatively affect summer youth programs, summer youth employment, summer lunch programs, arts programs, homeless housing, eviction prevention programs, and economic development programs. City services, such as foreclosure property stabilization, legal assistance, code enforcement, street improvements, and demolition projects would have to be cut. A reduction in CDBG funding, as the one called for in the President’s budget, would be extremely detrimental to Schenectady.
The Commerce Department is targeted for a cut of $1.5 billion, including the elimination of funding for public works grants, city planning strategies, and research and technical support for cities such as ours. The Minority Business Development Agency would also be eliminated, which would harm the growth of minority-owned businesses in Schenectady.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposed to be cut 31%, which includes the elimination of funding for the Clean Power Plan, which could result in acid rain. There is a proposed cut of $330 million to the Superfund program and $90 million in brownfields funds which is used to clean-up polluted lands. As the EPA states, cleaning up and reusing contaminated properties can protect the environment, reinvigorate communities, and jump-start local economies. In Schenectady, we know the importance of cleaning-up and developing abandoned and vacant property; one needs to look no further than the over $400 million development project at Mohawk Harbor to understand the importance of this funding to our local economy.
The Energy Department would be cut $1.7 billion, including the elimination of the Weatherization Assistance Program which helps low income households improve the energy efficiency of their homes. These efficiency improvements lead to reduced energy costs, and that money can then be used for food, healthcare, or other necessities. Likewise, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), run by the Health and Human Services Department, which provides assistance to low-income households with energy costs is targeted for elimination.
Housing and Urban Development is due to be cut 13.2%. The HOME program and Choice Neighborhoods program, which provide affordable housing options and public and federally subsidized housing for low-income families and individuals, are targeted for elimination. The Schenectady Municipal Housing Authority, the first in New York State, provides housing for 1,018 low-income families in housing developments around Schenectady and an additional 1,387 households are assisted by the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program. The impact of these cuts would be devastating to the thousands of families assisted in Schenectady.
Homeland Security cuts include programs which are beneficial to Schenectady. For instance, a cut of $667 million is proposed for grant programs that reduce the ability of local law enforcement to work with the federal government to protect our cities from manmade or natural disasters. Moreover, a 25% cost match for FEMA preparedness grants are proposed, which would potentially exclude Schenectady from FEMA preparedness funding. Schenectady residents have experienced several natural disasters in the past years which have required FEMA assistance.
The Department of Transportation is slated for $2.4 billion in cuts which includes the elimination of the TIGER grant program that provides funding for new infrastructure programs. Another program, New Starts, is also eliminated under the President’s proposed budget, forcing municipalities to fund transit projects rather than relying on federal funding. For a city like Schenectady, which has old infrastructure, the elimination of programs such as TIGER and New Starts, would be detrimental and would negatively impact the quality-of-life of Schenectadians.
These are but a few of the cuts proposed in the President’s budget. We cannot emphasize enough the negative impact these budget cuts would have on Schenectady. We have been in action, passing several resolutions calling on Congress not to enact these budget cuts, to save funding for brownfields development, and protecting tax-exempt bonds. Mayor McCarthy has testified in front of Congress on the importance of funding for infrastructure projects. However, we need your help; now is the time for action, join us in fighting against these Federal budget cuts. Call President Trump at (202) 456-1111 and your Congressional representatives and tell them that you object to President Trump’s budget proposal which cuts funding for important programs that Schenectady relies on. Together, united, we can defeat these budget cuts and ensure that vital programs that the residents of Schenectady count on will remain in place.