Forest Hills Non-profits Unite To Fight Budget Cuts
Facing funding cuts that could reduce or eliminate programs, leaders of various Queens non-profits gathered in Forest Hills on Tuesday night to organize a letter-writing and petition campaign to pressure elected officials to keep the money flowing.
"They are trying to balance the budget on the backs of the most vulnerable New Yorkers," S.J. Jung, president of the Flushing-based MinKwon Center for Community Action, said. "When we all speak up together, they will listen. We can make a difference."
Community Service Block Grants, which originate from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, are set to be slashed. Some of the money in these grants goes to the NYC Department of Youth & Community Development, which funds more than 200 nonprofits throughout the city, including 32 agencies in Queens. The Jewish Child Care Association, Queens Community House, the New York Junior Tennis League and St. John's University are among local beneficiaries of these block grants.
DYCD Deputy Commissioner Suzanne Lynn reported that the White House is looking into cutting roughly $350 million (about 50 percent) from the block grants. She said another proposal under consideration would eliminate them immediately.
According to Lynn, the beauty of these block grants is that DYCD — a city agency, not a federal one — distributes the funds. "Local communities get to decide how the money is spent," she said. "It's not dictated from Washington or Albany."
Mary Abbate, associate executive director of the Queens Community House, informed that two of her Forest Hills-based agency's programs, aimed at reducing school dropout rates and evictions, are at risk of closing. The elimination of these efforts would have devastating effects on at-risk teens and low-income seniors on fixed incomes who have difficulty making rent payments and surviving, she said.
Spanish-speaking immigrants Aura Barros and Rosa Arias told the crowd that they were about to lose their apartments until Queens Community House stepped in. Another immigrant claimed that she learned English and got legal help related to her citizenship status at Make the Road by Walking, which has a center in Jackson Heights.
Joseph Guagliardo, a DYCD Community Action Board member, explained that the pettition and letter-writing campaign is part of a citywide effort to bring attention to the importance of the block grants. DYCD created a Facebook page to unite activists, he said, and similar meetings are planned for Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx next week. DYCD already held an event on Staten Island.
"These are not just lines in a budget, these are life lines," Jung said. "The budget process is long and complicated, and they need to hear from us at every step."
"Today, with 12,600 dues-paying members, MRNY is a unique amalgam of worker center, legal clinic, citizenship school, mutual aid society, policy shop, protest factory and church. Its four offices in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Long Island are an egalitarian oasis for members, who gather there for conversation and classes..."