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Nassau social programs cut as funding is lost

Children use the computer lab as part of

Children use the computer lab as part of the Five Towns Community Center Middle School Summer Enrichment program. The program has continued despite cuts. (July 12, 2012) Credit: Barry Sloan

Dozens of summer day camps and after-school tutoring and mental health counseling programs for at-risk youth in Nassau County have closed, laid off employees and turned away families seeking help in the wake of a $7.3-million cut in county funding that went into effect July 5.

According to a preliminary tally by the 53 impacted groups, eight summer programs that would have served more than 500 youths have been canceled, dozens of other programs have dramatically reduced enrollment and 72 agency employees, including tutors and counselors, have been laid off.

Even as Nassau Republicans and Democrats continue negotiating over a possible restoration of money, the groups, unsure if their funding will be salvaged by fall, have started notifying school districts that their after-school centers, rehabilitation programs and gang prevention initiatives may not be around for the upcoming school year.

 

'Shock and disbelief'

"There's still an overwhelming sense of shock and disbelief that it's come this far," said Cristina Balbo, executive director of the Advisory Council for the Youth of Mineola.

The group, in existence for 41 years, says it no longer can afford to operate after losing its $278,000 in funding from the county. The council annually served some 200 low-income children through after-school tutoring, counseling and a high-school job training program. It has laid off its staff of 10, including Balbo. She is working unpaid in the hopes of keeping enough of an administrative presence to revive the group if funding returns.

Funding for the social service groups, which the county website says serve some 45,000 young people each year, had come from revenues from Nassau's red-light camera program. But County Executive Edward Mangano transferred the revenues to the county general fund during a partisan battle with legislative Democrats over how to pay $41 million in commercial property tax returns.

Democrats say they won't provide the necessary votes to approve borrowing to pay the settlements unless Republicans agree to a "fairer" legislative redistricting plan than what the GOP has proposed.

 

Political finger-pointing

Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said he and Mangano have not met since Monday, because of "an impasse on the numbers" but hoped to resume talks and broker a deal to restore youth program funding before the legislature recesses Aug. 6.

"We feel that urgency is very crucial to ensure we have programs available once schools reopen," Abrahams said.

Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin said Democrats could have helped "avoid this pain" by supporting the borrowing.

"To say they're still talking, when jobs have been lost and services haven't been performed has certainly caused a lot of anger and frustration," said Peter Levy, executive director of the Nassau County Youth Services Coalition, a nongovernmental group representing the interests of the agencies.

Representatives of the groups also say the political stalemate threatens to erode more than 40 years of cooperation with the county that began with formation of the Nassau County Youth Board in the 1960s. The board is meant to coordinate service efforts and ensure funding.

"We're not just talking about money," said Marcos Martonrano, acting executive director of the Hispanic Counseling Center in Hempstead. "We're talking about a tradition in Nassau County of the community working with the county, and I don't know that it's ever going to be like that again."

With Robert Brodsky

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