Borough weighs impact of sequester cuts

President Barack Obama talks about sequestration during a February news conference in Washington. Leaders in Queens are still working to comprehend the effect the federal cuts will have on the borough. AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
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The impact that billions of dollars in federal spending cuts will have on Queens was not immediately clear since it is widely expected that Congress will revise the deep automatic cuts over the next few years.

A general consensus among government and institutional leaders serving the borough seemed to be that city and state budgets — at least in the short term — would be spared significant reductions while those who rely on federal services — such as seniors and people on food stamps — will start to feel the pinch.

On Friday, Washington triggered $85 billion in across-the-board cuts for the remainder of the federal fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. If left unaltered, the so-called sequester is designed to trim $1.2 trillion from the federal deficit over nine years.

The mayor’s office estimates that over the first three or four years of sequestration, the city could experience a hit of approximately $800 million in reimbursements from Washington.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has proposed a $70.1 billion budget for fiscal year 2014.

Many of the government services Queens relies on, such as schools and police, receive the lion’s share of their funding from City Hall and Albany, and thus federal cuts would not have a significant impact.

“We’re not at the point where we’re going to say there’s going to be less people on the street or less books in schools or less hours for libraries,” mayoral spokeswoman Lauren Passelacqua said. “We’re going to keep paying for school lunches. The city will have to figure out a way to pay for essential services.”

City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria), who is the head of the Council’s Public Safety Committee, said the NYPD does not use federal funding for hiring officers and that he expected the next administration to be responsible in cutting city spending in ways that would not affect the city’s ability to deal with fighting crime or the war on terror.

“Sequestrat­ion should not be the doomsday scenario that Washington is saying,” Vallone said. “These are very minor cuts.”

Likewise, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said significant reductions as a result of sequestration would not come through Albany.

“The state budget, not so much,” Cuomo said at a news conference Monday. “The people it could, and I think that’s where the damage will be done and the harm will be felt. Not so much on the government budget.”

As the law is written now, the sequester will last nine years, although it is widely expected the cuts will be modified in some form within the first few years.

State Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Hollis), co-chairman of the Senate Bipartisan Task Force on Hurricane Sandy, said the sequester could have a significant impact on storm recovery further down the line depending on how long they last, but at this point it is not clear.

“It’s hard to say how that would impact [recovery],” he said, adding “Sequestrat­ion is not going to affect us next month.”

Queens organizations that receive direct funding from Washington and some of the most vulnerable in the borough stand to be hit the hardest.

Seth Bornstein runs the Queens Economic Development Corp., a nonprofit that runs programs all around the borough to promote small business growth, and said about 25 percent of his funding comes from the federal government.

“Our programs will be cut. We get funding from the Small Business Administra­tion,” he said. “Our ability to provides services counseling and workshops will be impacted.”

A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Astoria) said the state’s Women, Infants and Children food program could be forced to deny 775,000 applications under the low-income service and approximately $1.4 million could be cut from the state’s Nutrition for Seniors program.

North Shore-LIJ Health Systems anticipates it could lose between $87 million and $97 million a year across its facilities in the metropolitan area.

Spokesman Terry Lynam said the cuts come at an unfortunate time when the senior population is growing as the baby boomers age, but pointed out that the healthy system would find ways to absorb the cuts.

“We are preparing. Everybody has been asked to put a list of areas where we can cut back,” he said, adding the health system will look to spread the reductions out over support services. “Things like marketing and PR.”

Reporters Joe Anuta, Rich Bockmann, Phil Corso, Karen Frantz, Rebecca Henely and Steve Mosco contributed to this story.

Updated 1:02 pm, March 25, 2013
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