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Federal budget deal promises boost for WNY

WASHINGTON — The out-of-nowhere two-year budget deal that Senate leaders sprung on the nation and President Trump on Wednesday came as a happy surprise to Democrats and Republicans alike from Western New York, just because of what's in it for them.

What's in it is a new wave of federal spending: $131 billion on domestic programs and $165 billion on defense over two years. Local lawmakers said some of that money is likely to trickle down to Buffalo-area highways and water systems, drug treatment clinics, the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station.

It's all enough to get Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, a Democrat who helped craft the deal, agreeing with someone he almost never agrees with: Rep. Chris Collins, a Clarence Republican.

“This bipartisan and historic agreement is a major shot in the arm for middle-class families from Western New York to Staten Island all the way to the eastern end of Long Island,” Schumer said.

Meantime, Collins said: "Today’s deal is a big win for Republicans with a sensible compromise on our budget caps, raising our debt ceiling, and putting a down payment on the president’s infrastructure plan."

Support for the plan was by no means unanimous. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, commandeered the House floor for hours to protest the fact that the deal excludes a solution for the "Dreamers," young undocumented immigrants whose temporary legal status in the United States will expire starting March 1.

But Western New York members of Congress said they're happy to save that immigration issue for another day.

"It's a potential problem whenever any external issue is tied to the budget deal," said Rep. Brian Higgins, a Buffalo Democrat. "The issue of the Dreamers is very important, but we needed a budget deal. The budget deal is a big distraction, and now that's put aside."

Collins agreed.

"Now that other priorities are out of the way, we can focus on immigration reform that includes permanent legal status for Dreamers along with increased border security, ending chain migration, and getting rid of the visa lottery," the Clarence Republican said, echoing President Trump's immigration proposals.

Some lawmakers, such as Democratic Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand and Rep. Tom Reed, a Corning Republican, remained tight-lipped about the budget deal as they reviewed it on Wednesday.

And while Higgins said he has not yet fully examined the budget deal, he termed it, on first glance, as a step in the right direction.

Here, in detail, is what the budget deal could mean for Western New York:

More infrastructure spending: The bill boosts spending on roads, bridges, water systems and rural broadband by $20 billion. It's too soon to know exactly how that money would be spent, but Collins sees it paving the path to something even bigger: Trump's yet-to-be-detailed $1.5 trillion plan to rebuild America. And Schumer said the money could be particularly important in expanding broadband access in rural areas.

Trump's infrastructure boost: Five local projects that might benefit

Fighting the opioid epidemic: The bill includes $6 billion in new federal funding for drug abuse prevention and treatment programs, as well as mental health programs. That's an unprecedented increase in the federal fight against the epidemic, and Higgins said it should filter down to every community with a substantial opioid abuse problem. That includes Erie County, where 316 people died of opioid overdoses last year.

Boosting health care: The bill includes more than $7 billion for federally funded Community Health Centers, Teaching Health Centers and the National Health Service Corps. Community Health Centers serve more than 2.2 million patients in New York in both urban and rural areas, and Collins lauded what he called "long-term solutions for community health centers and other critical public health programs."

Rebuilding VA hospitals: Schumer noted that many veterans hospitals have not been fully updated in 50 years, but that could change thanks to $4 billion in new money to rebuild VA hospitals and clinics. It's too soon to know, of course, whether the Buffalo VA Medical Center would be among the facilities that would benefit.

Money for child care: The bill sets aside $5.8 billion in new funding for the Child Care and Development Block Grant program. Schumer said that will give tens of thousands of families access to affordable child care that they could not get before.

A boost for students: The bill includes $4 billion in new money for programs aimed at making college more affordable, with a particular focus on helping teachers and law enforcement officers with their education.

Help for dairy farmers: Beset with low milk prices, local dairy farmers would get a boost under the bill, which restructures the Margin Protection Program that's intended to help them when prices fall. In total, the bill invests more than $1 billion in the dairy safety net and slashes insurance premiums for farmers.

Much more military money: Republicans, including President Trump, demanded that the military be the big winner in the budget bill, and it is. Military facilities throughout New York State – including the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station – will likely get a boost because of the increase, Schumer said.

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