State of the County warns of federal cuts hurting local needs

Mar 30, 2017

Erie County Executive Poloncarz says the county is in pretty good shape, although potential federal cuts could hit hard at a variety of local programs. His State of the County speech in the Burchfield Penney Art Center was aggressive.

This was the Buffalo Democrat's fifth State of the County. He listed an array of claimed accomplishments and an array of programs he is planning.

Credit WBFO's Mike Desmond

Poloncarz called the economic picture good, with more jobs and increasing investments in new businesses. However, he said there are problems across the county, city, suburban and rural.

"I want to address these issues. I want to send a message out to the public that we're going to stand for these issues. We're going to stand for what matters," Poloncarz said. "We're going to protect our seniors. I'm going to do everything I can to make sure Ruthie's Law gets passed. But we're also going to fight for immigrants. We're going to fight for people who are in need. We're going to make sure we don't let down our citizens in their deepest time of need."

Ruthie's Law is a plan to tighten nursing home rules, in the wake of an elderly woman being beaten to death in a local nursing home by another patient.

County Legislature Majority Leader Joseph Lorigo pointed to a plan to help women into middle-skill jobs, well-paid positions traditionally held by men, but with many openings coming.

"That would have a big impact everywhere and, if we can do something like that and promote something like that, obviously I'll support that and there are a number of things that I'm more than willing to support," Lorigo said. "The concern has never been supporting initiatives like that. It's been whether or not we can work together for the betterment of the county in an open, honest and good faith manner. To this point, it's been difficult."

Poloncarz said there also is a need for more affordable housing and that he will push to require some affordable units in the array of planned housing developments, many of them seeking public aid as part of their financial packages.

Poloncarz used the address to criticize the Trump Administration and to say proposed federal spending cuts would hit the county hard and hurt the county's most vulnerable.

Credit WBFO's Mike Desmond

"People come up to me saying, 'Why are these things being said? We know what refugees are like in our community. They've helped us out.' I say, 'While I can't talk about what is being said in Washington, but I certainly can make a difference here in Erie County.' So, yes, you can say it was critical of the president and others who sat there and made vitriolic statements without any real basis in fact. Facts matter. I'm an attorney and I know that facts matter."

Poloncarz asked the public to call senators and members of Congress and push back against the spending cuts.

"90,000 families in Erie County could be negatively impacted if the HEAP Program is eliminated," he said. "The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has not only created jobs for habitat restoration in this community, it's cleaned up the Buffalo River. We're doing so much with these assistances from the federal government that, if we lose it, we're going to see a tremendous negative impact going forward. So I'm tremendously worried about it."

However, Lorigo said many of those federal cuts are not likely to happen and there was no need to attack the president harshly.

"Everything that I've heard, they're not cutting the Great Lakes funding. They are not going to let the HEAP funding be cut. You were there last week when we passed resolutions opposing that and I know all of our congressional delegation opposes it. Our U.S. senators oppose that. I don't think funding for either of those two things is going anywhere," Lorigo said. "The block grant money, I'm not sure what's going to happen there. Obviously, that shouldn't be cut completely. There are good programs with those funds."

Lorigo said it is worth looking at block grant programs to make sure they are being run effectively and carefully.

Republican County Legislator Ed Rath had mixed views about the county executive's message.

"I thought there were some good ideas that he had and there were also some ideas that I think are challenging for Erie County," Rath said. "Ruthie's Law is certainly something that we're all behind, in general. We need to look at the details and how it's going to be structured. But, as county legislators and as county officials, we have to have the highest priority of paying attention to the health and well-being of the residents of Erie County."

Rath said he was recently at a wake for an individual who was mistreated in a nursing home.

He is opposed to central planning, saying it should be left to local governments. He also said there were unnecessary political jabs against the Trump Administration.