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Public health programs may lose some outlays from Washington

The 9/11 Health and Compensation Act will face cuts along with other public health programs following the sequestration. AP Photo/Stan Honda
TimesLedger Newspapers

Across-the-board spending cuts born out of sequestration could have an impact on the public health of Queens and the state at large, according to officials.

The $85 billion in cuts to federal spending took effect last week and are the result of an agreement to resolve the debt ceiling crisis in August 2011. Now as the cuts come to fruition, officials are bracing for the worst.

According to U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Astoria), New York will lose more than $1 million to help upgrade its ability to respond to public health threats, including infectious diseases and natural disasters. The congresswoman said the state will lose more than $5 million in grants to help prevent and treat substance abuse, while the state Department of Public Health will lose more than $2 million.

A spokesman for Maloney said one of the services that could see its budget slashed is the Woman, Infants and Children food program, a low-income nutrition program that offers food vouchers and health care resources to underprivileged new mothers and young children.

The spending cuts could force WIC to turn away close to 775,000 women and children who are currently eligible for the program. WIC programs in Queens, including locations in Woodside and Jamaica, chose not to comment on the potential impact the spending cuts could have on their ability to serve applicants.

The spokesman said Medicare cuts would be capped at 2 percent, while Medicaid and Social Security are exempted from sequestration cuts.

Other potential funding losses related to the sequestration, according to Maloney, include the 9/11 Health & Victim Compensation Fund, which could lose $17 million; vaccinations for children could be reduced by about 7,170 for a host of diseases; and medical research, as $167 million in grants, could be slashed from the National Institutes of Health.

Area hospitals would also be affected, but a spokesman for North Shore-LIJ Heath Systems said the sequester spending cuts would not compromise patient care.

“We are not going to lay off any nurses or doctors or hospital staff,” said Terry Lynam. “The cuts will amount to just over 1 percent of our total revenue, which is about our profit margin.”

Lynam said North Shore invests all of its profits back into its facilities and the cuts would wipe out that money. This would prevent the health system from expanding current facilities and thwart its ability to open new centers.

“It will impact the areas we serve, including Queens,” he said. “But exactly how it will affect our communities, it’s too premature to tell.”

Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at smosco@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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