The executive budget proposed last month by Gov. David Paterson contains several elements that raise serious concerns, especially in the areas of human services, education and health care, according to the New York State Catholic Conference.
On Jan. 14, Earl Eichelberger, the conference’s director for human services, testified on the human-services portion of the executive budget during the a joint budget hearing of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee. Conference members also planned to testify on the educational aspects of the budget during a Jan. 28 hearing and on the health-care- and Medicaid-related components during a Feb. 2 hearing.
The governor’s budget cuts funding for a number of programs and services, and the people most affected by these cuts will be those who are already struggling to make ends meet and/or are at risk of homelessness, said Eichelberger, who also serves as executive secretary for the New York State Council of Catholic Charities Directors. He noted that the gap between the working poor and the rest of society has widened in recent years, with poverty levels in Rochester, Buffalo and Syracuse approaching 30 percent.
“The governor indicates that his budget is an attempt at shared sacrifice, but it is clear that not everyone has the same capacity to contribute to the effort,” Eichelberger testified. “Additionally, many of the service cuts appear to be penny wise and pound foolish. The short-term savings ultimately result in a greater long-term cost.”
Eichelberger noted several areas of particular concern to the state Catholic conference, including:
* The elimination of funding for the Homeless Prevention Program and cuts to such housing programs as the SRO Supportive Housing Program and the Homeless Intervention Program.
* A proposed 50-percent cut to the Kinship Care program within the budget of the Office of Children and Family Services. This program provides services to family members, such as grandparents or siblings, who care for young relatives, thus keeping them out of foster care.
* Proposed 25-percent cuts to the Advantage Schools and Home Visiting programs. The Advantage Schools program connects youth development to academic improvement, supports working parents, and provides safe and nurturing afterschool environments for children and teenagers.
* A proposed reduction from $118 million to $90 million for the Youth Services Block Grant, which funds youth-development and juvenile-delinquency-prevention programs.
* Reduced funding for the New York State Refugee Resettlement Assistance and Citizenship programs, which help refugees attain citizenship status and develop self-sufficiency skills.
“Social policies and budgetary cuts which further deteriorate the quality of life of our most vulnerable citizens will only increase the cost to our state and the neighborhoods and communities we encompass,” Eichelberger said.
For decades New York state has had a healthy number of partnerships between public and private entities that collaborated to deliver services to those in need in a low-cost manner, Eichelberger said. The Catholic Church is the largest nonprofit provider of education, health care and human services in the state and will continue to do as much as possible to help those in need, he pledged.
“While we will continue to do our best, we know that we will not be able to fill the gap that will be created by a sharp decline in state support,” he said.
The conference’s Catholic Advocacy Network, meanwhile, has zeroed in on an element of Paterson’s budget that would slash funding for Catholic and other religious and independent schools. It would eliminate the Comprehensive Attendance Program and $55 million in related reimbursement to religious and other private schools, while maintaining the program for public schools. It also would reduce the state’s Mandated Services Reimbursement program in religious and private schools by 44 percent, or $62 million dollars, according to the network.
The network has issued an action alert and is urging New Yorkers not only to oppose these measures , but also to voice their opposition to Paterson and state legislators. To access a suggested letter that can be edited and e-mailed directly to Paterson and other officials,
click here to visit the Catholic Advocacy Network’s section of the conference’s Web site.