Community health centers in central New York and across the country have been operating without long-term funding from the federal government since September. Sen. Charles Schumer said he is fighting to fully renew the program.
The Syracuse Community Health Center serves more than 30,000 central New Yorkers across 15 sites. If funding is not restored, the center could lose millions of dollars, be forced to close three locations, reduce services and lay off 75 workers. John Toteri has been coming to the center with his family for 40 years.
“They’ve really given us good service, good treatment, they’re been taking care of us," Toteri said. "If anything happens, I don’t know where to take my family, or what to do anymore. I’ve been used to coming here and it’s going to be hard on all of us.”
As negotiations continue over the federal budget, Schumer said there is bipartisan support to fund community health centers. But he said hard-right conservative members of Congress are against it.
“They don’t want to fund anything," Schumer said. "They just want to cut all of it and community health centers is one of the things in their crosshairs. This small group has such clout, because they go particularly to Speaker Ryan and they say we’re not going to let any budget through if they have these things in it.”
Representatives from community health centers across upstate said it is a major crisis. While they said they have built up some reserves, most centers have hiring freezes, delayed capital plans and are at risk of losing other grants.
"One of the main issues we're fighting for is to fully fund our community health centers," Schumer said. "We don't just want to do it a year at a time. They can't just budget a year at a time, or six months at a time. They need to know what their budgets are going to be, so they can provide the kind of health care that they do.
Schumer is hoping to strike a deal by a Feb. 8 deadline on the federal budget.