Philanthropist's aid helps needy kids buy school gear

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Just in time for back-to-school shopping, a philanthropist has provided a one-time gift of $35 million that will allow New York children from low-income families to receive $200 for school supplies.

More than 800,000 children, ages 3 to 17, will benefit from the gift from George Soros and his Open Society Institute, Gov. David A. Paterson said at a news conference at P.S. 208 in Manhattan Tuesday. Recipients could include about 35,000 children on Long Island, according to Nassau and Suffolk officials.

"When they wake up on the first day of school, they won't have to worry," said Paterson, whose office said families can use the money to buy books, pencils, pens, notebooks, calculators and other school items, as well as pay for tutoring.

The institute, based in Manhattan, committed $35 million to the State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, which oversees programs for low-income families. That made an additional $140 million available in federal stimulus funding.

Soros, a financier, said in a statement Tuesday: "When I was a student right after World War II, I had no money. I received cash from charities and I remember how important that was to my education." Middle Country School District Superintendent Roberta Gerold said that "families who are struggling will find this a great benefit."

The governor's office said families who receive public assistance or food stamps could get funds starting Tuesday with their Electronic Benefit Transfer card, used for public assistance and food stamp benefits.

But the plan came under fire from Republicans. Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) called the program a "welfare giveaway" and said the money should have been spent on job training or reducing taxes. "The governor's new plan, which he developed in secret with no legislative input, is little more than free money available at ATMs," Skelos said in a statement.

According to the governor's office, the state can keep track of where the money is spent, but cannot restrict it to being spent on school supplies. Qualified families in Nassau could receive $2.235 million, which would be pumped back into the local economy, the governor's office said.

"Senator Skelos' misguided assertion that this program provides an 'incentive to stay' on welfare demonstrates that the senator has little understanding of the impact this economic crisis is having on the least fortunate New Yorkers, who need this one-time assistance to prepare their children to go back to school," Paterson's office said in a statement.

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