Long before many students in New York are able to understand what a “balanced budget” means, they will feel the consequences of the Cuomo administration’s cuts to programs and services that affect them directly in their schools and communities on a daily basis. These cuts go much deeper than being able to buy basketballs and art supplies — they have the potential to eliminate entire programs across New York State that have proven beneficial by increasing graduation rates and reducing juvenile crime because they operate during the critical out-of-school time (OST) hours when youth are susceptible to engaging in negative behaviors. And in New York specifically, the demand for before- and after-school programs is six times higher than the national average.1
Ms. Katherine Eckstein, the Director of Public Policy at The Children’s Aid Society (CAS), said that some of the biggest concerns the organization faces in the wake of Governor Cuomo’s proposed budget are cuts that affect after-school programs and summer youth employment opportunities (last summer CAS served 560 young people through the Summer Youth Employment Program).
The nonprofit CAS was founded in 1853 to help children in poverty succeed and thrive. Over the course of more than 150 years, CAS has grown and adapted substantially to meet the needs of changing social and economic times. CAS is now operating in all five New York City boroughs and Westchester County, serving over 100,000 clients. Its mission is to provide comprehensive and integrated services to impoverished children and families in targeted high-needs neighborhoods.
Ms. Madelyn Gonzalez, the CAS Community School Director at P.S. 5, an elementary school in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan, has witnessed firsthand the erosion of many of the most effective programs at her school because of budget reductions. Because of the cuts, she said, CAS will serve fewer children in the local community than in previous years. The OST program at P.S. 5, which offers support to a primarily low-income Latino population, provides students with academic and enrichment activities after-school and during the summer months. Many of the staff working in these programs are teens from the local community who serve as mentors to their younger counterparts and gain meaningful work experience while making positive contributions to their neighborhood. Currently, CAS employs about 30 of these after-school teen mentors at P.S. 5. However, during the summer months when low-income students are impacted by summer learning loss that widens the achievement gap, CAS will be forced to scale back their summer camp program dramatically. The budget only allows for six staff members for 60 elementary students, in contrast to 2009, when the summer camp was able to serve 150 students. More and more, CAS is forced to find other funding streams to provide services children and families depend on, services that are proven effective at assuaging the effects of living in poverty. In New York State, 1 in 5 children (925,000) currently live in poverty.2 In too many cases, CAS, like many other organizations, will be forced to reduce the number of children they can serve.
Proposals by Governor Cuomo include replacing individual program funding with a new competitive block grant program, the Primary Prevention Incentive Program (PPIP), with half the total funding of the current programs. Ms. Eckstein said this could lead to substantial challenges at the New York City Department of Youth and Community Development(DYCD), which leverages state dollars with city funding to support the City’s OST initiative. CAS currently serves 2,280 children through DYCD’s OST program in 16 programs in schools and community centers.
So while Governor Cuomo attempts to fix the State’s budget short falls by utilizing programmatic cuts and adding more administrative obstacles for human services providers, in the critical times of after-school and during the summer, children are left to fend for themselves.
Contributed by Stephanie Hakes
of the Human Services Council of NYC