WASHINGTON - A day after President Barack Obama said his biggest worry is a nuclear blast in Manhattan, New York lawmakers complained Wednesday that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security plans to cut funds for New York City's nuclear detection program by 50 percent.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) said they are working with Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to reverse the decision to slash New York's Securing the Cities funds to $4.8 million next year from the current $11 million.
"As President Obama correctly noted, our biggest fear is a nuclear weapon going off in New York City, so why would DHS want to cut funding for such a vital program here?" Schumer asked in a statement.
In an interview, King said, "I have emphasized to Secretary Johnson -- and he agrees -- that New York is the No. 1 terrorist target in the country. President Obama's statement yesterday about his greatest fear being of a nuclear blast in New York City makes Securing the Cities all the more important and essential."
On Tuesday, Obama dismissed Russia as the No. 1 national security threat to the United States. Instead, he said, "I continue to be much more concerned when it comes to our security with the prospect of a nuclear weapon going off in Manhattan."
The White House had no further comment.
Obama's proposed budget, however, cuts the Securing the Cities program -- which helps New York and other cities pay for nuclear and radiation detection -- from $22 million to $12 million, King said.
A Homeland Security official said it's time for New York to transition to local funding after the department extended its grants for three years beyond its original five-year term, for a total of $120 million.
New York's Securing the Cities funds were cut from $18 million last year to $11 million this year as DHS expanded the program to Los Angeles. Last week, in a budget hearing, King told Johnson he was concerned about the transition, calling the 50 percent cut "unreasonable."
Despite that reduction, Johnson replied, "we're in a position to leverage other programs to make sure that all the cities including New York are adequately funded."
He added that he takes New York City personally. "I'm a New Yorker. I was there on 9/11," he said.
Homeland Security spokesman S.Y. Lee said in a statement that the department "continues to provide support to New York, to further strengthen the nation's ability to respond to a range of threats, disasters and incidents."
Urban Areas Security Initiative and State Homeland Security Program grants for New York next year total $14.6 million more than they did this year, Lee said.
Stephen Davis, an NYPD spokesman, said, "We are currently in negotiations with them."
With Anthony M. DeStefano