Nassau youth programs brace for funding cuts
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A nearly 50-percent cut next year for youth programs in Nassau County and planned changes to how money is funneled to providers have social service providers bracing for enrollment cuts and elimination of some programs aimed at helping at-risk youth.
The 2013 county budget, passed last month, includes $4 million for the programs, down from $7.3 million this year. County officials also say they are changing how they distribute funding to about 40 outside youth agencies that provide services including after-school tutoring and mental health counseling, though they have not provided specifics.
"We're in a desperate place right now," said Tom Bruno, executive director of the Hicksville Boys & Girls Club, which serves 500. Bruno said that since losing nearly half the $140,000 in annual county funding during cuts in July, he has laid off two tutors and now closes the center's after-school tutoring program three hours earlier, at 5 p.m.
Nassau Human Services Commissioner Lisa Murphy said at a Nov. 20 legislative meeting that the county will work with the philanthropic Hagedorn Foundation of Port Washington to spread the funds to help "more children than ever before." She suggested that funding formulas would be changed, but provided no details when questioned by a Democratic legislator.
Katie Grilli-Robles, a spokeswoman for Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, said the new funding formula will focus on "critical areas of concern, which will include juvenile justice, teen parenting, job skill development, summer programs and at-risk youth." She also gave no details on how that would be done.
Asked about the possibility that some groups would not have their contracts renewed, Grilli-Robles said "all options are being looked at currently."
Peter Levy, executive director of the Nassau Youth Services Coalition, said many groups have laid off social workers and cut hundreds of children from programs because of the 2012 cuts and are concerned that more enrollment reductions will be necessary next year. The coalition advocates on behalf of the youth contractors.
Levy said the groups are "extremely frustrated" that they have not been included in discussions about changes to funding formulas.
"These agencies have been doing the county's work for 40-plus years," Levy said. "Now they're changing the way of doing things, without talking to the people doing the work."
Nassau's partnership with Hagedorn follows layoffs of six staff members of the Nassau County Youth Board in September, a result of the July cuts. The board, in operation for 47 years, disbursed county funding and audited the groups.
Nassau will administer the funding because of state and county requirements, while the foundation will "lend technical support and advice," Grilli-Robles said.
Hagedorn Foundation executive director Darren Sandow said the private group was approached by Murphy to act as an adviser because of its "expertise" in reviewing grant proposals and working with nonprofits.
"We'll be looking at how do you most effectively give that money away where all needs get satisfied -- where it's not a political conversation, but one grounded in all sorts of good criteria," Sandow said.
Nassau youth funding has been buffeted by partisan politics for the last year. Mangano has tried to enlist enough Democrats in the GOP-controlled county Legislature for a supermajority to approve $41 million in borrowing to pay property tax refunds. Democrats say they won't approve the borrowing until they get a "fair" legislative redistricting plan.
In May, Republicans voted to rescind $8 million in funding provided by Nassau's red-light camera program that had been guaranteed to the youth service groups, saying the money was needed to pay tax refunds.Legis. Denise Ford (R-Long Beach), who said she regretted voting to rescind the funding, and was a point person during summer negotiations to restore the funds, called the $4 million a start and said she planned on meeting with administration officials "quarterly to see if we can free up more."
But Legis. Judy Jacobs (D-Woodbury), who has served on the legislature since its inception in 1995, said in her experience "once you remove something, very often its very difficult to restore. I believe the youth agencies in the county are not going to look the same moving forward."