Supporters of nonprofit social service agencies gathered in Mineola on Wednesday to hand deliver petitions to Nassau County lawmakers asking them to restore funding that was cut from youth programs last month.
Joining a handful of children and teenagers in solidarity to support youth programs were local religious leaders, many of whom are involved in youth services that have been cut off from the county since contracts were canceled on July 6. The group rallied on the steps of the Theodore Roosevelt Executive and Legislative Building, hoping to sway the lawmakers inside.
“I’m here to say that their bickering and their political ambitions and inability to lead, the very thing we elected them to do, is breaking the backs of people down at the bottom,” said Rev. Mark Robinson of Community Bible Church in Inwood, who blasted lawmakers for letting the at-risk youths these groups served be caught in the political crossfire.
The groups that have already shut down or are in danger of closing up shop without the necessary funding provide children with after school programs, anti-violence services, family counseling, homework help and other services. An estimated 50,000 children take part in these programs. Organizers said 43 nonprofits have been affected.
“It’s really sad because they’re supposed to be helping us, not taking that away from us,” said 15-year-old Claudia Penate, of Glen Cove, who works for the Glen Cove Youth Bureau as part of a summer youth employment program.
Soraya, a shy 8-year-old, said the Glen Cove Youth Bureau “helps us learn a lot…and they take us on good trips.”
“I actually feel sad,” she added. “It’s not fair.”
Soraya joined 9-year-old Nicolia to carry a long string of miniature cut out drawings of children through the legislature building as staffers for each politician accepted the petitions. Letters were addressed to County Executive Ed Mangano, Presiding Officer Peter Schmitt (R-Massapequa) and Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Hempstead).
Funding to the nonprofits was cut off last month after the Democratic minority refused to hand over three votes needed for a supermajority to allow the county to borrow $41 million to help pay overdue assessment settlements. They have been calling for a more favorable redistricting process in return for their votes.
Both sides blamed their counterparts for the loss of programs.
“Nassau’s nine Democrat legislators are to blame for the loss of these programs as they refused to provide the votes necessary to maintain services and balance the budget,” Brian Nevin, Mangano’s spokesman, said in an emailed statement. “The Democrats should be ashamed of themselves for withholding the funding of youth programs until their political redistributing demands are met.”
Michael Florio, spokesman for the Democrats, said anger should be directed at Republicans who control the legislature and the county executive. “They took the money away from them,” he said.
“We totally support you,” Florio told youth service providers after they walked into Abraham’s office carrying petitions. “Our caucus is totally supportive of this.”
But nonprofits said they’re tired of the blame game. They just want their money back.
“These children are going to home to empty homes if we don’t have the money to run our programs,” said sister Evelyn Lamoureux, head of the board at Gateway Youth Outreach in Elmont. “We don’t know what you guys are doing but we need you guys to fix it.”