New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo should keep the needs of vulnerable and poor New Yorkers in mind as he prepares his 2014-15 executive budget, according to the New York State Catholic Conference, which represents the state’s bishops in public-policy matters.
The Catholic conference’s executive director, Richard E. Barnes, spelled out the bishops’ concerns and priorities for the upcoming fiscal year in a Dec. 5 letter to Cuomo. The Catholic Church provides a great many ministries to New York’s poor and vulnerable and has enjoyed a valuable partnership in working with the state to make sure these citizens’ needs are met, Barnes wrote.
"As you well know, the needs are great. While we understand the realities and constraints that you are working under, regarding the state’s fiscal situation, we also know that you appreciate the need to ensure that no New Yorkers slip through the cracks," Barnes wrote.
Support for Catholic education should be a priority in the 2014-15 state budget, according to Barnes. More than 60 Catholic schools throughout the state have closed their doors in the last three years, and when Catholic schools close only 50 percent of the displaced children typically enroll in neighboring Catholic schools, he wrote.
"The shift of enrollment from private to public schools over the last 15 years has increased the cost to taxpayers by nearly $3 billion annually," Barnes wrote. "Unless something dramatic is done to assist tuition-paying families, this trend will continue to exacerbate the burden on taxpayers. Supporting religious and independent families and schools is one of the most fiscally prudent actions the state can take because doing so actually reduces the burden on taxpayers."
Thus, New York’s bishops encourage Gov. Cuomo to enact the Education Investment Tax Credit proposal (S4099a and A1826b), which would use individual and corporate donations to not-for-profit scholarship organizations and the public-school sector to provide tuition relief for families as well as charitable funds for public-school programs. It also would give teachers $100 tax credits for out-of-pocket expenditures on classroom materials. The 2014-15 budget also should provide sufficient funds to cover the most current year’s reimbursements due to private schools for providing certain mandated services and appropriate funds to help the state pay down the debt it owes to religious and independent schools for providing these services in previous years, according to Barnes.
The 2014-15 budget also should provide increased and sustained funding to help religious and independent schools increase their security, since the cost of doing so far outweighs the $4.5 million made available for this purpose in the 2013-14 budget, Barnes wrote. The budget also should provide funds for professional development for teachers at all schools, as well as academic intervention and health and safety services for all students and expanded transportation and infrastructure services for religious and independent schools.
"In order to ensure that all children, regardless of where they attend school, are provided the opportunity to become competitive, responsible and healthy adults, it is vital that you provide sufficient resources and services on an equitable basis for all children," Barnes wrote.
Many of the bishops’ priorities are related to basic human needs, the criminal-justice system and issues related to respect for life, according to Barnes’ letter. State contracts with not-for-profit human-service providers should cover the actual cost of providing quality services and adequately compensating the state’s human-services workers, many of who could be considered to be among the working poor, Barnes wrote. The state also needs to support programs that help young families develop parenting skills and programs that aid and educate pregnant women, new parents and their children, he added.
"Investment in these programs prevents larger expenditures down the road," he wrote.
The Catholic conference also encourages New York state to promote and provide support for:
* Adoption as a loving option, promoted through a state-financed publications campaign, tax incentives and resources for parents caring for adoptive children who are ill or have special needs.
* Affordable housing for the poor, the elderly and the disabled.
* Emergency food programs for working families and others in need.
* The integration of newcomers through just and humane immigration policies, legal services for immigrants, and citizenship-education and refugee-resettlement programs.
* Education and training programs for people transitioning from welfare to work, including adult-education and literacy programs, post-secondary vocational education and training, and higher-education opportunities.
* Caretaker-respite programs for those who care for aging, developmentally disabled or chronically ill family members.
* Programs that facilitate the successful re-entry of formerly incarcerated individuals.
* Comprehensive juvenile-justice reforms, including prevention programs for at-risk and court-involved youths and funding for education and job training.
* Maternity and early childhood services, which provide health and social services to pregnant women and teenage mothers and their infants, many of who live in poverty and have no access to such things as transportation to doctor appointments and emergency supplies.
* Stem-cell research that does not rely on the destruction of embryos, such as research utilizing stem cells obtained from umbilical-cord blood.
* The continuation of real property tax exemptions for charitable not-for-profit entities, including religious organizations, which rely on these exemptions and without them may not be able to provide their services.
"Like the state, not-for-profits are also dealing with difficult financial situations, and any revocation of real property tax exemptions would force not-for-profit providers to eliminate programs, close facilities, lay off workers and curtail services. This, in turn, would burden state and local finances and increase public costs, as the state and local governments would be compelled to assume the lost services now provided by the not-for-profit community," Barnes wrote.
The state’s bishops also are concerned about the more than $45 million in state and local taxpayer dollars spent on induced abortions each year, according to Barnes.
"New York is one of only four states that have voluntarily chosen to appropriate Medicaid funds for elective abortion; the vast majority of states follow the lead of the federal government and fund abortions only in cases of reported rape, incest or when the mother’s life is in danger," he wrote.
Instead, Barnes wrote, those millions instead should be spent on life-affirming preventative health measures to benefit the state’s poorest citizens.