Federal spending cuts could hit home

Many local officials are uncertain how the federal budget cuts due to begin Friday would affect communities in Fulton, Montgomery and Hamilton counties.

Some leaders, however, say the effects could be severe.

“It is my understanding that the president has flexibility on where the cuts will occur,” said Patrick Michel, superintendent of the Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery Board of Cooperative Educational Services. “If that is the case and he decides education is one of the areas necessary to cut, it could be pretty devastating for us.”

The state’s biggest losers in automatic cuts to the federal budget would be in the medical, defense and education fields, according to federal officials.

Unless Congress reaches a spending agreement by Friday, $85 billion in cuts are set to take effect from March through September.

One of the biggest effects from the so-called sequester would be on military and defense spending, the White House says.

About 12,000 civilians in the state who work for the Department of Defense could be furloughed, bringing gross pay down by just under $61 million. Also, the funding for the operation of Army bases could be cut by $108 million.

The mass cuts would affect the National Guard members in the C Company, 2nd Battalion 108th Infantry, based at the Gloversville armory.

Eric Durr, a spokesman for the New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs, said the primary local effect would be on the training and services available to prepare the soldiers.

“The military [members] can’t be furloughed,” Durr said. “There is no real big impact at the Gloversville armory … there is going to be an impact, although it is very hard to put a quantifier on it because what is going to happen is our various accounts used to maintain the equipment and pay for transportation to training will be reduced.”

He said there may not be as much money to buy spare parts for the Humvee.

He said maintenance work could be deferred because the civilians working on the vehicles could be furloughed.

Durr said the armory might have to be used for training the members because there would be little funding for transportation for training at Fort Drum in northern New York or Camp Smith in Westchester County.

“They go someplace where they shoot guns and run around and do military stuff that you really can’t do in downtown Gloversville,” Durr said. “The money for that will be reduced, so more training will have to be done at the armory.”

He said money to pay for soldiers’ education may be reduced as well.

According to a news release for the National Guard, the effects of sequestration would result in the budget reduction of $18.75 million in training, personnel, maintenance and operations.

The sequester also could affect the medical field.

The Healthcare Association of New York State said the federal cuts would result in $2.13 billion in Medicare cuts to New York’s hospitals and health systems.

A news release from the association said Medicare cuts would go into effect April 1.

Nathan Littauer Hospital President and CEO Laurence E. Kelly said sequestration would affect the hospital and every medical practice that treats a Medicare patient.

He said doctors in their offices, nursing homes, home care providers, physical therapists and ophthalmologists providing eye care would be paid 2 percent less starting Friday.

He said Nathan Littauer expects to see an approximately $470,000 loss in 2013 due to the federal cuts.

Kelly said the hospital included the possible cuts in the projected 2013 budget, leaving the hospital in a position to keep the services and staff it already provides.

“We will do OK and we do not anticipate having to lay anybody off or cut any services because of the sequestration cuts, but $470,000 is a lot of money, and it comes out of our bottom line,” Kelly said. “That is less money we will have for the future.”

Kelly said the nursing home has 84 beds available to patients, and approximately 10 to 15 of them on a given day are typically Medicare patients.

Joan Ehlinger, chief financial officer of St. Mary’s Hospital in Amsterdam, said it’s premature to say whether the hospital will experience job or service cuts as a result of sequestration. She said the hospital has no plans at this time to reduce staffing or services.

Ehlinger said St. Mary’s factored in the possible federal cuts in this year’s budget.

Ehlinger said the hospital expects about a $5.2 million federal funding reduction over the next 10 years.

“We are already a low-cost hospital,” Ehlinger said. “With all these cuts, we definitely are watching every penny.”

Under the possible federal cuts, primary and secondary schools would lose about $42.7 million, putting around 590 teacher and aide jobs at risk. About $36.3 million in cuts would affect about 440 employees across the state who work with children with disabilities.

Michel from BOCES said many of the title grants funding teachers and teacher aides would be affected.

“The kids would be impacted because that reading teacher may have to be cut because the funding has been taken away,” Michel said. “Title I funding is usually used for academic support, so kids that have issues with reading and other things would be impacted.”

Gloversville Enlarged School District Superintendent Michael Vanyo said the cuts shouldn’t affect the district’s daily operation.

“We are not going to change anything,” Vanyo said. “If we end up not getting as much money in a grant, we will have to end up taking it from somewhere else. If we were using title money to offset one of our programs, we are not going to just stop the program because of it.”

Possible federal cuts to the Head Start and Early Head Start services could affect 4,300 children across the state.

Denis Wilson, executive director of the Fulmont Community Action Agency, said he’s unsure how the cuts would affect his agency, which coordinates the local Head Start program.

“We know if it takes place Friday, there will be an impact, but we don’t know if we will see the impact Friday, Monday morning or over the month ahead of us,” Wilson said. “We really don’t know, and that is a problem for us for planning.”

U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh, who represents Fulton and Hamilton counties, said he’s concerned about potential cuts.

“Sequestration represents a real threat to the region’s economy, whether it comes from readiness programs at Fort Drum, efforts to move people and goods across the Canadian border, programs to protect Lake Champlain or any number of local assets that promote job creation,” Owens said in a prepared statement. “There is no question that we can responsibly cut federal spending and raise revenue to address sequestration, but leaders in Washington have simply failed to come together. There are those of us who are committed to working across the aisle and addressing this issue, and I remain hopeful that we can do exactly that in the weeks ahead.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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