More than 40 Nassau community youth groups and mental health providers risk losing $8 million in county funding starting July 1, as County Executive Edward Mangano and legislative Democrats remain deadlocked over a Mangano-backed borrowing plan.
Agency heads say losing all or part of the money will gut or eliminate programs including child crisis hotlines and after-school tutoring for at-risk youth.
"We would likely close or scale back so much that we'd lose everything we've built over the past 30 years," said Janice Miles, executive director of Citizens Concerned for Roslyn Youth.
The group's $143,000 in annual funding and that of 44 other youth social service organizations is tied up in a partisan battle between Mangano and Democrats over how to pay for $41 million in tax settlements owed to commercial property owners.
Democrats are refusing to let Mangano borrow the money unless Republicans agree to a "fairer" redistricting plan. The legislature's Republican majority countered two weeks ago by approving a measure authorizing Mangano to redirect $8 million in red-light camera revenue that have been earmarked for the social service groups since 2009.
The administration has said without the ability to borrow, Nassau will have to cut social service programs to free up money for tax refunds.
Mangano has since asked state lawmakers to pass legislation that would enable him to borrow without the approval of the county legislature or the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, a state monitoring board that controls the county's finances. In exchange, the administration would push state lawmakers to pass a measure guaranteeing the groups stay funded through the camera fund.
Social service groups say that money was already promised to them by the county when the groups lobbied state lawmakers in Albany to approve the cameras.
"That red-light camera fund was established so we wouldn't have to stand before you month after month begging for funding," Arlene O'Dell, executive director of the Glen Cove Youth Bureau told legislators at a hearing two weeks ago.
To avoid the "draconian cuts," Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin said, "there is still time remaining for Democrat legislators to provide the votes necessary" to approve borrowing.
But Majority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said Democrats won't be "bullied" into allowing the bonding.
Several groups say they are now being asked by Mangano's administration to lobby Democratic county legislators to approve the tax-settlement borrowing.
Andrew Malekoff, executive director of the North Shore Child and Family Guidance Center, said when members of his board of directors called Mangano's office to plead for the restoration of funds, they were told to call Democratic legislators and insist on the borrowing.
Malekoff said his counseling center, which receives $260,000 from the county, hasn't taken a position on the borrowing, hoping to stay out of the political fray.
"Unfortunately, the pawns in this political game of chicken are the most vulnerable populations," said Malekoff, whose center counsels child abuse victims and those with suicidal thoughts.
Without the county funds, many of the groups will struggle to secure matching grants from the state, further hampering efforts to deliver services, said Tedd Levy, executive director of Freeport Pride, a community center that helps youth dealing with substance abuse issues.
"This has the potential to create a domino effect of losses," said Levy, whose 42-year-old group relies on $671,000 from the county's youth fund.
"We're repeatedly fighting for our existence. We wish we could just be left alone so we can get back to focusing entirely on helping our kids."
At the Hispanic Brotherhood of Rockville Centre, where 75 children from low-income families receive after-school care, executive director Margarita Grasing said she may have to lay off counselors and turn away some children if Nassau were to slash the group's $80,000 grant.
"These children depend on us," Grasing said. "In all the politics what's getting lost is that there are real families in need. Who is sticking up for them?"
LOOMING SOCIAL SERVICE CUTS
Among the groups that could lose Nassau County funding:
North Shore Child and Family Guidance Association: Established in 1953, the Roslyn Heights-based group provides mental health services for youth dealing with depression and anxiety. After the 9/11 attacks and the 1993 LIRR massacre, the group's counselors and social workers were among the first to provide help to grieving victims.
Family and Childrens Association: The Mineola-based organization serves more than 40,000 clients each year in Nassau and Suffolk. The group provides shelter to runaway teens and homeless youth, psychological counseling and offers substance abuse programs.
Freeport Pride: Established in the 1970s, the group focuses on youth affected by substance abuse issues. The group offers drug prevention programs, counseling and substance abuse rehabilitation.
Long Island Crisis Center: The Bellmore-based group offers crisis counseling 24 hours a day by phone, text message or in person. The center has established projects including "True Colors," which educates teens about gang violence, and a street outreach team trained to locate and help homeless teens.