Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s vetoes of individual member items last month took tens of thousands of dollars away from Queens nonprofits, leaving some worried that a trend of disappearing grants will leave them bruised.
After the state budget’s approval in May, Cuomo used his veto pen like a scalpel.
He individually removed 126 items, mostly comprised of small grants to local organizations that legislators put into the budget.
Ultimately, Cuomo removed $640,000 of spending from the final document.
Maspeth Town Hall was a typical example of what that meant on the neighborhood level.
The organization lost out on $4,000 toward its youth and senior programs that had been awarded years ago, its executive director Eileen Reilly said.
A $4,000 loss is in no way crippling to the nonprofit. Last year its budget was about $2 million, but this year, Reilly said Cuomo’s veto is part of a trend that is reshaping her organization.
Maspeth Town Hall is funded mostly by grants, and this year, it’s missed out on more than $600,000 of city and state money—changing the budget “tremendously,” Reilly said.
On an individual program level, Reilly said even the $4,000 loss from the state makes a difference.
One of the programs that money was allocated for is the Town Hall’s Regents Exam review program, an after-school tutoring session to prepare students for the mandatory tests.
Students pay a small fee to have extra instruction and preparation in the afternoons. The grant helped offset Maspeth Town Hall’s costs, which it now has to just absorb.
“If the trend continues that there are less and less city [and state] dollars to run much-needed programs, then obviously there has to be a fee for the programs or some of the programs will be downsized,” Reilly said.
After the Governor’s vetoes, State Senator Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach)began calling for a reassessment on how member items are approved.
His district was hard hit by the grant denials, with more than $45,000 in and around his district denied.
Addabbo wants the middleman removed. He said organizations should apply directly to state departments for grants instead of getting their local legislators to work them into the budget.
He also pulled in support from some of the nonprofits that were hit by Cuomo’s vetoes.
“With major cuts to the city budgets over the past few years, small not-for-profits are desperate for state monies to survive,” said Bob Monahan of the Greater Ridgewood Youth Council. Cuomo vetoed $3,000 for that organization.
“The Greater Ridgewood Youth Council has been waiting three years for state capital dollars to build its state-of-the art Community Center in Ridgewood without success,” Monahan said. “It is our hope that the governor will work with the Senate and Assembly to move old, allocated monies along, and allow agencies like the GRYC to complete projects that will benefit a whole lot of families.”
Monahan and Reilly both called their grants old because that had been approved years ago and never disbursed, but in a radio interview, Cuomo said he considers them new items because they’re being paid out now.
Cuomo has cracked down on member items in general. He’s taken a hard line on stopping new earmarks that favor local organizations over statewide concerns— calling them “pork.”
Reilly, Monahan and others though, say these grants were approved years ago and should be released now because the organizations finally spent the money they
were counting on.
“It’s a shame that he’s letting the money just sit there,” Reilly said. She also argues that local nonprofits like hers do serve a citywide and statewide need.
Reilly said kids have fewer and fewer productive options after school. The new city budget relies partially on cuts to childcare and after school programs.
Without them, Reilly worries the city is helping cultivate less productive, less educated youth with more chances to get into trouble.
“It’s putting kids on the street,” Reilly said. “This does affect the community at large,” Even on a microscopic level compared to a $133 billion state budget, Reilly thinks the $4,000 toward an after-school tutoring program can make a real difference.
Like health care, she explains—a few thousand dollars of prevention can be worth hundreds of thousands in treatment.
“These kids need to be in a safe environment,” she said. “That’s the bottom line.”
By Jeremiah Dobruck