Theresa Sanders, president and chief executive of the Urban League...

Theresa Sanders, president and chief executive of the Urban League of Long Island, at a conference on racial and economic equity issues on Long Island on April 24, 2017, in Uniondale. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Discussions of racial disparities in Long Island’s social and economic fabric may be uncomfortable, but are necessary to dismantle barriers to equity faced by African-American residents and to support the overall health of Nassau and Suffolk counties, the head of the Urban League of Long Island told regional planners Wednesday.

“Equity is a growth marker for any community,” Theresa Sanders, the Urban League’s president and chief executive, said during a meeting of the Long Island Regional Planning Council at Suffolk County Community College’s Brentwood campus.

“What is an equitable region? Equity is when all residents, regardless of their race, ethnicity, income, neighborhood of residence, or any other characteristic, are fully integrated into a region’s economic vitality, contributing to the region’s readiness for the future,” said Sanders, who also is a council member.

She urged her listeners not to be put off by the racial context of a recent Urban League report focused on equity, which says that because of racial barriers, the Island’s economy lost out on nearly $24 billion in 2014 alone, citing lower salaries earned by blacks.

The report, “An Equity Profile of Long Island,” noted that even when blacks who live here have the same educational level as their white counterparts, they earn less. It was authored by PolicyLink, a research and advocacy group based in Oakland, California, and the University of Southern California Program for Environmental and Regional Equity.

Educational and income barriers also affect young adults who can’t find affordable housing, as well as veterans and senior citizens, Sanders said.

John Cameron, the planning council’s chairman, agreed that discussions are critical. He called the $24 billion estimated to be lost to the region’s economy because of racial inequities “startling,” adding that “the greater crime is all those lost people who are not realizing their potential. They don’t have a chance at the American Dream.”

Cameron asked what could be done to change the situation. Sanders responded that it begins with “getting leadership to talk about it.”

In other matters, Richard Guardino, the council’s executive director, said Nassau County has suspended its $250,000 contribution to the council because of the county’s budget difficulties. Each county provides $250,000 to cover the council’s operation.

Cameron said the council has enough money through the end of 2017 and into early next year, “but we need funding to sustain it. We are a bi-county agency.” Without Nassau’s contribution, he said, “the council will cease to exist.”

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Edward Romaine, a member of the council, said it is “regrettable” that the Island’s “only regional voice” faces such a cutback.

Brian Nevin, a Nassau County spokesman, said in an emailed response that while County Executive Edward Mangano’s proposed budget funded the council, legislative amendments “put funding in jeopardy as NIFA [Nassau Interim Finance Authority] wishes to see legislative revenue initiatives materialize before funds for some initiatives, such as the council, can be appropriated.”

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