Region's congressmen offer alternatives for federal budget cuts
Federal budget cuts affecting schools, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and other programs and institutions throughout the Hudson Valley and Catskills lumbered into reality on Friday, as last-minute talks in Washington to avert them sputtered.
With little hope in recent days that Democrats and Republicans would agree on a better way to cut $85 billion from this year's deficit, both of the region's congressmen were making stops in their home districts when the so-called budget sequester fell like a cleaver.
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, visiting Temple Hill Academy in New Windsor to participate in the annual Read Across America, a 15-year-old event promoting reading, took a few minutes first to condemn the impending budget cuts and chastise his colleagues for letting them happen. He complained that programs such as special education and Head Start will be harmed when Congress could have taken other steps instead, such as ending tax breaks for corporate jet owners."We are not making good decisions in Washington," the freshman Democrat said, before reading "Clifford Goes to Washington" to a group of first-graders.
He later joked, "Congress is like first grade, only not as well-behaved. You should come to Congress and teach us how to behave."
Rep. Chris Gibson, a second-term Republican whose district includes Ulster and Sullivan counties, spoke by cellphone as he returned from a series of visits in Delaware County, saying the sequester "was always meant to be a forcing function" to achieve long-term deficit reduction — not an end in itself.
Gibson repeated his support for a bipartisan budget proposal named after its sponsors, Democrat Jim Cooper and Republican Steve LaTourette, which he hopes will gain support in both parties and end the cycle of fiscal standoffs in Washington. He said the number of House supporters has grown to 75 from the 38 it had a year ago.
"I remain committed to persuading my colleagues on both sides of the aisle," he said. "I want to see us get this done so we can focus on other matters."
Unless undone in the days or weeks ahead, the budget cuts taking effect Friday are expected to mean unpaid days off for workers at West Point, Otisville Federal Correctional Institution and Stewart Air National Guard base. Officials have said Stewart workers will lose one day a week, while the prison employees will lose a day every two weeks; West Point spokesmen haven't given out details about furlough plans there.
Those three institutions employ more than 3,100 people.
New York schools are slated to lose $79 million in expected funding for special education and Title I programs, which provide remedial services for low-income students. While no district-by-district impact has yet been released, Middletown schools Superintendent Ken Eastwood said this week he expected his district to lose $2 million.
A slew of other programs serving the needy will feel the pinch. Among them: Head Start and Early Head Start; Section 8 rent subsidies; community health centers; food payments for pregnant women and mothers with young children; payments for home heating; and home-delivered meals for senior citizens.
Staff writer Michael Randall contributed to this report.