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Obama budget boost funding to fight opioids, cancer

WASHINGTON – A big boost in federal funding to fight opioid addiction, along with a similar increase in cancer research funding, lead the list of proposals in President Obama’s fiscal 2017 budget proposal that conceivably could come to benefit Western New York.

Most of the $4.1 trillion budget plan is likely to die in the Republican-led Congress, but local lawmakers said that the opioid proposal will at least lead to discussions between the two parties, while the cancer funding stands a better chance of making it into the law.

The spending plan, which the president unveiled on Tuesday, also includes smaller “sure bets” that would aid the region, such as $36 million in funding for a new National Veterans Cemetery in Pembroke.

Obama’s proposal to budget $1.1 billion to counter the opioid epidemic, which would go mostly to funding treatment, came on the same day local officials announced that 23 people in the Buffalo area have died of heroin and fentanyl overdoses since Jan. 29.

“This is very, very important,” Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, said of Obama’s proposed increase in funding to fight the abuse of opioids. “This is a national crisis affecting every community in the nation.”

But Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, said Republicans aren’t convinced that increased federal spending is the right way to fix the problem.

Republicans know that the opioid crisis is an urgent issue, though, and would be willing to discuss ways to address it, Collins added.

He said GOP lawmakers are much more strongly in support of Obama’s proposed $1 billion “cancer moonshot,” which could lead to a dramatic boost in research funding at Roswell Park Cancer Institute.

Republicans are considering adding the cancer funding to the “21st Century Cures Act,” a bill modernizing the approval process for new drugs, which has already passed the House and which is being considered by the Senate, Collins said.

The Obama budget includes a series of noncontroversial line items that could benefit Western New York.

Leading the list is $36 million for the construction of the veterans cemetery in Pembroke, money not yet set aside by Congress.

The spending plan also includes a provision creating a new refueling tanker mission at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, a move Schumer announced last week.

In addition, the budget increases funding for the West Valley Demonstration Project by $3 million, to $62 million, while setting aside $2.65 million for maintenance at the Buffalo Harbor, and $1.79 million for the Black Rock Channel and Tonawanda Harbor.

Beyond that, the spending plan includes a series of reductions similar to those Obama has proposed in past years, only to see Congress reject them, such as:

• A $50 million cut in the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, to $250 million.

• A $40 million cut in the Low Income Home Energy Assistance program, to $3 billion.

• A 6.7 percent cut in the Community Development Block Grant program, which brought Buffalo $12.6 million last year.