Community service groups rallied on the steps of the in Mineola Monday to protest the possible cuts that would cause the loss of a major funding source as of July 5.
Speaking to the gathered crowd of supporters, Nassau Coalition of Youth Services Agencies president Peter Levy called upon the Nassau Legislature to think of the residents to stand to be hurt if service funds are cut.
“The people in Nassau who have been elected as politicians are playing games with the lives of the most vulnerable people of this county and we can not let that happen,” he said. “The politicians are saying that these programs that are being cut are not important...we’re here to say that what’s important are our lives, our children, and our seniors, and that’s why we’re here today.”
Numerous county-funded community service groups received notices in early June that their contracts were being canceled and their funding from the county completely cut as of July 5 if County Executive Ed Mangano’s fiscal recovery plan is not passed, which consists of bonds in the amount of $41 million to fund tax challenge settlements.
Nassau has more than 100 community agencies which offer hundreds of programs that include after-school programs, suicide prevention, drug addiction, gang violence, family crisis, eating disorders, abuse, senior citizen issues, and more.
Approving the bonds would require 13 votes to amount to a Legislative Super Majority passage. However, at a legislative meeting held after the rally, Peter Schmitt, R-Massapequa, majority leader of the 12th Legislative District, said that the Republican-controlled body's Democratic members are refusing to provide the three remaining votes.
“We stand here with ten votes to approve the necessary bonds...but to do that we need to pick up at least three votes from the other side,” he said. “If we can get those three votes, we’ll pass the bonds today and save these programs.”
Kevan Abrahams, D-Hempstead, the legislature's minority leader, said that approving the bond would merely be an ineffective Band-aid for a much bigger financial problem.
“This will fund the agencies this year, but what about the next year, and the year after that?” he said. “A better idea would be to reinstate the red light camera law, which was originally supposed to be used to provide these agencies with the funding they needed.”
The service groups were previously receiving funding from Nassau’s red light cameras and the fines they doled out, but since the cancellation of their contracts, the revenue from these cameras is now being sent directly to the county instead.
At the legislative meeting, Pat Boyle of Gateway Youth Services of Elmont pleaded the case of the collective agencies present to lawmakers.
“Two hundred fifty kids aren’t going to have a summer programs this year, and 800 kids aren’t going to have an after-school program next year,” he said. “Tens of thousands of children that could be positively affected by our programs aren’t going to be able to get that now.”
Mangano issued a statement, expressing his support of the community service agencies, and calling upon the legislative board to pass the bond.
"I stand with the protesters,” he said. “The Democrats should do the right thing and provide the three votes necessary to avoid these draconian cuts."
Jaime Bogenshutz, executive director of Massapequa’s YES Community Counseling Center, said at the rally earlier in the day that without the programs that agencies like hers offers, Nassau residents will suffer dearly.
“Our children, our young people, our adults, and their families, have help and resources they can turn to in times of need,” she said. “If we are forced to shut down our programs, what happens to those people? What happens when a teen wants to die and there is no one there to listen?”
Schmitt said that the Nassau Legislative would be meeting on Monday, June 25, to decide the ultimate fate of the county executive’s fiscal recovery plan.
Meanwhile, 15 year-old Jessica McMamara, a regular at Massapequa’s YES Community Counseling Center, hopes that the Legislative Board heeds her words when they make their decision.
“I think that it’s really important that kids should be able to get the help that they need,” she said. “A lot of the times they can’t, and that’s not really fair. I don’t see why Legislators should be making this decision if they’re not the ones being affected by the program cuts.”