Democratic and Republican lawmakers in Nassau County are set to have a showdown Monday over funding for nonprofit youth, substance abuse and other social service agencies with more than 180,000 clients caught in the crossfire. Those affected are planning to rally outside the Theodore Roosevelt Executive and Legislative Building in Mineola to voice their opposition.
Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano plans to terminate the contracts of 43 youth service programs and 15 substance abuse agencies on July 5 and cut all of their funding — totaling $7.8 million — if Democrats don’t approve $41 million in bonds to fund tax challenge settlements. The GOP-controlled county legislature needs the Democrats to provide the three votes necessary for a supermajority in order approve the borrowing.
“It’s really despicable,” said Jamie Bogenshutz, director of YES Community Counseling Center in Massapequa. “I don’t know where people will go for help.”
The organizations currently receive funding for youth service programs from red light camera revenue, which will be redirected to the county’s general fund if the vote is not approved. Legislators had earmarked the funds for human services in 2009 but repealed the funding designation last month.
Directors of these centers said the cuts will not only jeopardize thousands of lives, but they will also create problems within the county. Bogenshutz said that cutting programs in the overloaded system will lead to crowded hospitals and skyrocketing expenses to the criminal justice system.
“All these people are going to have major issues,” she said, adding that YES, which offers services ranging from school-based social work to drug and alcohol treatment, will have to shut down all of its programs if the cuts go through.
Long Beach Reach, a comprehensive community-based service, may lose an Alternative High School Diploma program that helps students who are not in school anymore. Without the program, executive director Joseph Smith said the 75 students enrolled in it will become statistics rather than successful adults.
“It has some very serious implications,” he said. “It’s a very, very upsetting and troubling prospect.”
Other services these organizations offer that would be discontinued include summer child care programs and some prevention programs. Smith said senior citizen programs are also at risk.
Directors suggest that Mangano is targeting these services because they are discretionary, meaning it is not mandated by law for the county to fund them. They also suggest that it is easier to target Nassau’s youth because they don’t vote.
Democrats remain opposed to the borrowing plan and have said they will not provide the three votes needed to pass it.
“It is evident that Ed Mangano’s mismanagement has led us into a deep financial crisis and we will not bail him out by approving more excessive borrowing,” said Legislative Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport).
Mangano said, “We urge Legislators to come together to preserve the funding for youth agencies and to approve the funding needed to pay tax refunds.”
Presiding Officer Peter Schmitt (R-Massapequa) did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Directors said they are unhappy with the county’s leadership and “short-sighted” decisions during the financial crisis. They also argue there’s an estimated $13 million in the red-light camera fund from this year and last that could support these programs for the rest of the year.
“We’re once again being treated as political pawns,” Smith said. “The real issue here is the short-sighted, politically motivated decisions.”
The possible elimination of youth services in Nassau caught the attention of many organization leaders in Suffolk. County officials there have already made numerous cuts to human services, the most recent being last year’s 25-percent cut to prevention programs. Nassau’s dilemma has many worried that County Executive Steve Bellone may follow in Mangano’s footsteps.
“It’s a very, very dangerous trend,” said Elaine Economopoulos, executive director of Horizons Counseling and Education Center in Smithtown.
“Once you get a trend and somebody does it, you never know,” said David Cohen, president of the Suffolk County Quality Consortium, an organization that promotes affordable treatment and prevention programs. “It’s kind of disturbing.”
Bellone’s spokesperson said she did not know of any cuts to human services in Suffolk’s upcoming round of budget negotiations.
Nassau organization directors said they are hopeful legislators will take the vulnerable residents of the county into consideration when they cast their votes Monday.
“We keep hoping leadership will emerge,” Smith said. “It’s going to take everyone to come to the table.”