Long Island’s 6.6 percent poverty rate, the highest level since 1959, surprised a state panel weighing a bid by the region for millions of dollars in aid for building projects, worker training and company expansions.
The panel, five prominent members of state government, questioned the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council recently about ways of lifting people out of poverty using education and child care services.
The queries came during a five-hour tour of medical and research facilities in Nassau County last week. The council, which is made up of business executives, academics and labor leaders appointed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, organized the tour to show how $486 million in state aid to the Island has been spent since 2011.
“It was striking to me that the poverty rate is the highest that you have had in 60 years . . . [that’s] a contrast to the outside world’s view of Long Island” as an affluent place, said panel member Helene Weinstein, a Democratic assemblywoman from Brooklyn. “Can you address the issues of affordable housing and barriers to work for low-income families, such as the availability of day care services and public transportation?”
Council co-vice chairman Stuart Rabinowitz, Hofstra University president, said the council has successfully recommended that the Cuomo administration invest millions of dollars in the Wyandanch Rising blight removal project to help bolster one of the Island’s poorest communities.
Wyandanch Rising “not only has affordable housing as part of it, but has [worker] training facilities, and now we are asking you for a Y to cut down on the attraction of some gangs” for young people, he said, referring to the proposed $18.8 million Wyandanch YMCA in a building that also will house the Long Island Music Hall of Fame. “We want to demonstrate that this can be replicated in other distressed areas.”
Rabinowitz also said educational opportunities are crucial in the fight against poverty. The council has asked for $544,000 to fund nine centers in low-income neighborhoods to teach science, technology, engineering and math skills.
He and other council members highlighted the Island’s “pockets of poverty” in an hourlong discussion with the state panel and in a 148-page report.
In Nassau and Suffolk counties, the 6.6 percent of residents who were poor in 2015 is up from 5.5 percent in 2011, according to the Long Island Association business group.
Council co-vice chairman Kevin Law, who also leads the LIA, said the group is concerned about housing affordability and child care.
“These are our future students, our future workers,” he said.
The Long Island council is vying with nine others from regions across the state in Cuomo’s annual contest for up to $800 million in state tax credits and grants. This year’s winners will be announced by the governor next month after the state judging panel finishes its work.
The Long Island Regional Economic Development Council has endorsed 121 projects for this year’s state-aid competition. The largest are:
$3.5 million, YMCA in Wyandanch
$2 million, Carman Place housing and retail development in Hempstead Village
$2 million, semiconductor research center at Stony Brook University
SOURCE: Long Island Regional Economic Development Council