Local schools, airports, others brace as sequestration deadline looms

When asked for their thoughts on sequestration -- the term for the automatic budget cuts set to take effect Friday unless Congress reaches a deal -- many people had little or no idea what we were talking about or how it might affect them. Videojournalist: Elizabeth Daza (Feb. 28, 2013)

Delayed flights. Closed government offices. Services brought to a standstill. Employees told to stay home and forget about collecting a paycheck.

That's what may be in store today in the Hudson Valley as sequestration takes effect and federal officials begin to cut more than $85 billion in federal expenditures.

The funding cuts are "incredibly painful for Westchester County, for Rockland County and for communities across New York State," Rep. Nita Lowey (D-Harrison) has said of the cuts.


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Though Democrats and Republicans in Washington see the sequestration cuts in radically different terms, members of both parties have expressed anxiety about deep cuts to defense spending, which could affect operations both at West Point and at the Veterans Affairs hospitals in Montrose in Westchester County and Castle Point in Dutchess County.

Federal employees at those institutions could be told to stay home on furlough. Employees who might be affected range from aides at veterans hospitals to teachers and cafeteria staff members at West Point.

The military academy will lose $92 million in funding today, said Rep. Sean Maloney (D-Cold Spring). Maloney said West Point will feel the brunt of the cuts among New York military facilities. Some 1,300 employees there will be furloughed -- told to stay home, temporarily, without pay -- Democrats in Congress have said.

On Monday, Maloney spoke to cadets at West Point and lamented the impact on future service membmers and said the cuts aren't fair to civilian employees.

"The men and women who feed, instruct and protect our nation's next generation of military leaders shouldn't lose their jobs because this Congress can't do ours," Maloney said.

Of all federal employees who work locally, nurses, medical officers and social insurance administrators stand to lose the most from the funding cuts, data obtained by Newsday show.

Overall, federal employees in the New York City metropolitan area earn about $1.6 billion combined in salaries, according to data released by the Democrats.

Locals might not notice if FBI agents don't report to work, but they will notice if after-school programs or school sports are slashed in local school districts, which depend at least in part on federal funding.

Schools in Westchester and Rockland counties will lose $4.4 million in federal funding, Lowey said. School districts in less affluent communities, like East Ramapo, will suffer the most. Of the $1.3 million in cuts to Rockland County schools, some $844,000 will be cut from East Ramapo.

The cuts are "a double whammy" for districts already strained by budget gaps and spending mandates, Rockland Boards of Cooperative Educational Services spokeswoman Stephanie Gouss told Newsday on Thursday.

Officials and politicians disagree over how much the cuts will impact air travel. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said travelers arriving at the largest regional airports -- like Kennedy Airport in Queens -- could face waits of up to four hours to clear customs if FAA screeners are furloughed and airport security is undermanned.

Flight delays might not happen initially, Napolitano warned, but air traffic will begin to slow the longer the cuts endure.

"It won't happen like a flick of a light switch," Napolitano warned Wednesday, "but it will accrue over the next weeks."

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