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Schumer slams slashing of sewer funding in federal budget

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D, NY) criticized the recent budget request that would slash funding for over 340 critical, and often mandated, sewer upgrades in New York, calling it an unacceptable hit to local budgets, property taxes, the environment and New York’s aging infrastructure. Specifically, the Administration’s FY2015 budget request cuts funding for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF), through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), by $430 million, which translates to an approximately $40 million cut for New York alone.

There are over 340 sewer projects in Upstate New York and Long Island that have pending applications for such funding in 2014 alone, with hundreds more waiting to be funded in future years. Schumer called on his colleagues on the Senate Appropriations committee to provide level or increased funding for the overall sewer program, especially since the program is already woefully underfunded due to a steady decrease in its budget over the past few years -- over $600 million since FY2010.  Schumer is fighting to stop that trend in its tracks.

During a on a press conference call on Monday, Schumer also revealed that the Clean Water grant program, pioneered by Schumer in the stimulus legislation, which allows states to use a portion of the CWSRF as direct grants instead of loans, has decreased New York’s share from a high of $112 million in 2010, to just $10 million in 2013.  Schumer today introduced a proposal that would allow States to utilize a 50 percent grant option of their total funding, rather than the current 20 percent.  

“New York has some of the oldest sewer systems in the country, and we should be doing everything in our power to provide the funding that is needed to repair and upgrade them,” said Schumer. “Unfortunately, the budget request released by the Administration earlier this month cuts funding where it’s sorely needed, making it extremely difficult for New York’s cities and towns to make long overdue – and often mandated – upgrades to their sewer systems.”

According to Schumer, failing to provide robust funding for CWSRF would also be a missed opportunity to create jobs and spur economic development. Studies indicate that for every $1 billion invested in infrastructure projects, over 26,000 jobs are created. Beyond job creation, investment in sewer infrastructure meets public health and safety needs and helps communities attract new businesses and residents.

The senator also stressed the need for New York to have an increased ability to put the funding it receives through the CWSRF toward grants, not just loan interest subsidies.

“Making it easier for New York State to award some of this funding in the form of grants, as opposed to only loans, will provide the incentive that many communities need to take advantage of this program,” added Schumer. “When our cities and towns know that grant money is available that can help lower the risk of undertaking a major infrastructure project, they are more likely to dive in and make the repairs and upgrades that are needed.”