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Poloncarz blasts Trump proposed budget cuts that hit home

WBFO's Mike Desmond

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz is blasting the effects of proposed Trump Administration budget cuts on county spending and programs, from helping kids with lead poisoning to checking summer water quality at beaches. He calls the cuts "cold-hearted callousness" because of their effect on the average citizen.
During a news conference Monday, the county executive said county residents do not understand how many of Washington's proposed cuts would affect the county's suburban and rural areas, not just Buffalo. He said the effects of proposed cuts in Medicaid are not yet clear.

He outlined cuts ranging from eliminating HEAP, which puts $30 million into paying winter energy bills for citizens across the county, to eliminating Great Lakes cleanup programs, which are cleaning up the Buffalo River, to Meals on Wheels.

"Which comes from the New York State Office of Aging. We determined that there would be a 17.9 percent cut across the board in that area, though we can't say for certain whether those dollars would be limited to Meals on Wheels," he said. "Though, if there is a 17.9 percent across-the-board cut, you can kind of assume that there's going to be cut in Meals on Wheels."

Other area cultural institutions potentially could close, he said, because cash for those programs would be diverted to defense spending in Trump's budget plan.

Poloncarz also took shots at the Majority Caucus in the County Legislature, with whom he has been feuding, citing the community development block grant program.

"People need to understand that. They say, 'Oh, $3 million cut from CDBG funding. Ah, whatever. It's the City of Buffalo. None of its going to the City of Buffalo.' And if John Mills or Joe Lorigo or Ed Rath need to find out that money is cut, so be it. Like the Town of Clarence. They just did a $100,000 project with regards to sidewalk restoration to make them ADA compliant in the Town of Clarence. That would be gone," Poloncarz said.

The county runs the block grant program for most of the county outside of Buffalo.

Poloncarz said the county is not sure yet what the effect of proposed Medicaid cuts will be on the county. It is a major cost and Washington shifting all Medicaid costs to Albany is likely to lead to state tax hikes. 

He also said the county could absorb some of the spending cuts, but not the kind Washington is looking at. Those, he said, would force possible layoffs and cuts in county spending, potentially on roads and bridges.

He said Clarence Congressman Chris Collins is proposing some changes in the Trump plans as they move through Congress, since he is a former Erie County executive and understands the issues involved. Poloncarz said the public has to spend more time learning what is going on and how it affects them personally.

"There are a lot of people who hated Obamacare, hated Obamacare, and relied on the Affordable Care Act to provide their health care. Now those individuals are like, 'Oh, my lord. I didn't realize the Affordable Care Act is Obamacare.' Educate yourself, folks. Learn what the reality is. Find out that the Affordable Care Act and Obamacare are the same thing. If that was the case and some people had done that last year, they may have voted differently," Poloncarz said.

Go. Andrew Cuomo also was heavy on criticism Monday regarding the Trump cuts. He issued a statement on the GOP's proposed replacement for the ACA, which Cuomo said would "block grant money to the state in the name of local flexibility," but at the same time "dramatically cut that funding."

"Over four years, New York State would lose $4.6 billion and lose at least $2.4 billion a year by fiscal year 2020. If this were not bad enough, Congressman Chris Collins and Congressman John Faso have offered an amendment that would stop the counties from paying a share of Medicaid. Historically, the federal government paid 50 percent, the state paid 25 percent and local governments – counties – paid 25 percent. The state has already absorbed much of that burden, but even so, the reduction to the program from the loss of the counties’ share outside of New York City is $2.3 billion. The cut is so severe that the majority of hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living facilities located in Upstate New York and on Long Island would be devastated."

Cuomo called the amendment "a deathtrap, as there is no way to make up the shortfall."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.