By Brian Tumulty
Gannett Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - Schoolhouses, airports, historic sites and a wide range of other New York institutions and groups will feel the impact when $85 billion in across-the-board federal spending cuts takes effect March 1.
WEB EXTRA: White House release on expected cuts to New York State
Entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare won't be cut, but people who handle claims will be subject to temporary unpaid furloughs.
New York school districts face losing $102.2 million in federal aid, cuts that will be felt at the local level when school boards formulate their budgets for the 2013-14 school year. Those budgets must be finalized by May 7, according to the state school boards association.
School districts already are limited by a cap on local property taxes and by state aid funding that is at roughly the same level it was in 2008, according to David Albert of the state school boards association.
"Schools have been experiencing dwindling resources for years,'' Albert said, suggesting districts may opt to cut programs like art and music.
Public and private colleges and universities in New York face losing $110 million. The cuts include a reduction in grants from the National Science Foundation and National Institutes for Health and cuts in student aid through the Federal Work-Study and Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (SEOG) program.
The automatic spending cuts were included in a 2011 budget agreement as part of a process called "sequestration." They were created to achieve deficit reduction if the White House and Congress failed to agree on a less drastic alternative.
Democratic Rep. Nita Lowey of Harrison, Westchester County, said that if the cuts take effect, Congress isn't doing its job.
"We can selectively decide where we cut, not mindlessly across the board,'' she said.
Originally, the cuts were to take effect on Jan. 1, but the deadline was delayed two months when Congress and the administration reached a deal on taxes but not on spending.
Emergency federal aid to victims of Hurricane Sandy also will be reduced, as will funding to pay air traffic controllers, customs inspectors, and IRS employees processing income tax returns.
The cuts likely will mean delays for air travelers and longer waiting times for tax refunds.
Many federal employees, including civilians employed by the military, will be furloughed for up to 22 work days by the end of September.
The federal cuts also will hit parks and historical sites. The home of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in Hyde Park faces a $178,000 reduction through the end of September, and the Women's Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls faces a $77,000 cut.
Funding for the Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island, which are indefinitely closed for repairs following Hurricane Sandy, will be cut by $779,000.
Unemployed New Yorkers will have fewer opportunities for job training, with a $22.2 million cut to those programs, according to the National Skills Coalition. The state's jobless rate stood at 8.2 percent in December, with 786,800 New Yorkers actively looking for work.
An estimated 2,600 college students could lose their federal work-study grants, and 4,300 could lose their SEOG grants, according to a letter sent to members of the New York congressional delegation by SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher; Laura Anglin, president of the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities; and CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein.
The largest cuts to local education spending will slash $45.2 million from Title 1 aid for schools serving poor students and $38.6 million from special education programs. Other cuts will affect smaller programs such as preschool special education, teacher quality grants, grants for limited-English-proficiency students and aid for rural districts.
New York City schools will absorb more than half the overall cuts, with a $59.2 million reduction in federal aid, according to the New York State School Boards Association. Other districts facing cuts large cuts include Buffalo ($2.5 million), Rochester ($2.1 million), Yonkers ($1 million) and Syracuse ($1 million).
The Army estimates that cuts at its bases in New York will take $351 million from the state's economy. The U.S. Military Academy at West Point will absorb $92 million of the cuts, which will delay construction of a 650-bed dormitory.
Democratic Rep. Louise Slaughter of Fairport in Monroe County, said "there's plenty of fault to go around'' for the impending cuts. She said the public views the impasse as another example of the political brinkmanship that has become routine in Washington.
"It's like the old silent movie 'The Perils of Pauline,''' Slaughter said. "Tie somebody to the railroad tracks and see if you can get them off of there before the train kills them. It's an appalling thing and we have gotten used to these fiscal crises so much that I'm sure many people in my district think we'll be okay because they always save it at the last minute. But I am not so sure this time.''
The White House and congressional Republicans appear unlikely to avert the cuts before March 1, but they could strike a deal between then and March 27, when a stopgap spending bill financing government operations will expire.
President Barack Obama wants to replace the sequestration cuts with a strategy that would raise tax revenues and cut spending less drastically. Congressional Republicans say they won't agree to increase tax revenue.
A USA TODAY/Pew Research Center poll conducted Feb. 13-18 found more support for Obama's deficit-reduction approach (45 percent) than the approach advocated by congressional Republicans (38 percent).
The telephone poll of 1,504 adults had a margin of error of plus-or-minus 3 percentage points.
But 70 percent agreed it's essential for the president and Congress to pass major legislation this year to reduce the deficit, rather than putting it off to the future.
And 76 percent said they prefer an approach that includes both spending cuts and tax increases. Only 19 percent said they favor only spending cuts. Fifty-four percent said they would like to see mostly spending cuts with some tax increases.
Gannett/ White House