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February 28, 2013

 

Mayor, others decry sequester

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Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Lindy Glennon, executive director of Cortland County Community Action Program, speaks during a news conference Wednesday on the federal budget sequestration. From left are: Glennon; Rev. Dr. Janet Adair-Hansen of the Christ Community Church; Cortland Mayor Brian Tobin; Janet Steck, representing Citizen’s Action of Central New York State; Amy Simrell, executive director of the YWCA; and Andrea Rankin, former director of Cortland County’s Jacobus Center for Reproductive Health.

By SARAH BULLOCK
Staff Reporter
sbullock@cortlandstandardnews.net

Cortland Mayor Brian Tobin and area human services leaders and activists decried automatic federal spending cuts that will take effect Friday if Congress cannot reach a budget deal today.
Lindy Glennon, executive director of Cortland County Community Action Program, warned at a news conference Wednesday that the impact of the cuts, known as sequester, would be significant and they would start immediately.
“It starts immediately March 1,” Glennon said, noting that the cuts must be made between March 1 and September.
“It is a thoughtless and crude way to go about it,” said Rep. Richard Hanna (R-Barneveld) in a telephone interview Wednesday. Hanna is looking and hoping for a congressional budget deal to avoid the sequester.
Public schools would be hit hard as well, with Cortland Enlarged City School District losing $86,133 out of $1.6 million in federal aid, a 5 percent cut.
“We already had a gap elimination adjustment (state aid cut) of $1.8 million, and we’re getting a $1.3 million gap elimination adjustment next year,” said Michael Hoose, superintendent of schools. “There’s only so much we can take and still deliver a good educational program.”
The cuts described at the conference would hit many different programs.
Tobin noted that the free preschool program Head Start, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Home Energy Assistance Program, which helps low-income residents with heating bills, would all see cuts.
The mayor noted that in 2011 the city used FEMA grants totaling over a $1 million to help purchase fire trucks, and without similar grants other small cities and communities might go without necessary fire-fighting equipment.
Citing Superstorm Sandy and Tropical Storm Irene, Tobin questioned what will happen if another disaster strikes after FEMA’s funding is reduced.
“We can’t put our children and people at risk under the gun,” he said.
Glennon noted that cuts to Head Start could mean that 12 to 15 children would lose their preschool during the program’s current contract year that ends May 31.
Cuts to child care through Early Head Start would also mean parents would either be forced to stay home for work or scramble for alternate child care arrangements, she said.
Amy Simrell, executive director of the YWCA of Cortland, noted that two block grants that provide partial subsidies for child care would also face cuts, after facing three earlier cuts in December and January.
Of the 2,400 local residents that depend on supplemental foods from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, Glennon is unsure who would be removed from the program.
“I’m not even sure how to do that yet,” she said.
Rev. Dr. Janet Adair Hansen of the Christ Presbyterian Church warned that churches cannot replace all the services for the needy that will be lost under sequester.
“There is no way that my church and all the churches combined can meet current needs,” Hansen said, urging that lawmakers consider morality when they make budget decisions. “Protecting the poor is not only a good thing, but the right thing to do.”
Andrea Rankin, former director of Cortland County’s Jacobus Center for Reproductive Health, noted that under sequester $3 million was cut nationally for HIV testing and funds for breast and cervical cancer screenings would also be cut.
The speakers at the conference decried the cuts as indiscriminate and urged Congress to come up with a deal that balanced spending cuts and tax increases.
“It’s really kind of an ugly game of chicken,” said Hanna, who noted that Republicans want to cut spending without raising taxes and that they compromised substantially on revenue with the last “fiscal cliff” deal. “I never imagined that it would get this far, to tell you the truth,” he said.
Nationally, the cuts would amount to $85 billion, or half a percentage point of the nation’s gross domestic product in an economy that is growing by about 2 percent, Hanna said.
“That’s substantial,” he said.
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer could not be reached for comment for this article.
Federal aid cuts to schools, besides Cortland’s, were as follows: $61,564 for Homer $22,979 for Cincinnatus, $19,716 for Marathon, $21,395 for McGraw, $29,189 for Groton, $53,280 for Dryden, $13,794 for DeRuyter and $27,568 for Moravia.

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