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Parenthood Plus: September 21, 2012

Assault On Human Services

September 5, 2012 marked two months since $7.3 million, earmarked to support human services, was shifted to the general fund. We were told that this was due to the Nassau County legislature’s failure to pass $41 million in bonding for property tax refunds. But, it is not that simple.

How did all of this get started? In 2009, then County Executive Tom Suozzi “enlisted” the county’s most vulnerable citizens as unpaid lobbyists to advocate for red-light cameras, cigarette taxes and traffic-violation reform. Mr. Suozzi threatened scores of agencies serving tens of thousands of youths and families that they would be closed down or crippled unless the revenue enhancers were passed through Albany.

Red-light camera legislation passed and local agencies were assured, by unanimous vote of the full Nassau County Legislature, that related revenues would become a sustainable source of funding for these services. Three years later, that agreement is null and void. Our young people are now the collateral damage in a political war over bonding and redistricting.

More than two months have passed since the July 5, 2012 cuts to human services, which included $1.75 million of chemical dependency treatment funding. Despite extensive testimony, protests and media coverage, not a thing has changed. Advocates, young and old, have held press conferences, prayer vigils and a symbolic funeral for youth services. On Aug. 6, several young people and adults attended a legislative meeting symbolically bound, gagged and blindfolded to point out that youth services were being held hostage.

What is the outcome of all of this activity and attention? Democrat and Republican legislators continue to point fingers and holler at one another in front of hundreds of disbelieving youths and family members who have become regular attendees at legislative meetings as well as activists in addressing this issue.

Youth services organizations that depend almost exclusively on county funds will close in a short time. Agencies with more diversified funding may not go out of business, but will have to shutter critical services such as after-school and summer programs as well as suicide, pregnancy, gang and drug-prevention programs that keep kids safe, provide enriching activities and offer a sense of belonging and relationships with caring adults during the non-school hours.

The developmental tasks necessary for adolescents in our culture to become healthy, functioning adults require great effort and time and more than parent and school support alone. These tasks include forging relationships with peers and adults that lead to the achievement of emotional independence from parents, developing a healthy sexual identity, building a capacity for greater intimacy with peers, learning skills and selecting an economic career; also developing a moral value and an ethical system to guide one’s behavior toward desiring and employing socially responsible behavior.

Adolescence today is an age of particular vulnerability, a time in which youngsters are experiencing the sexual awakenings of puberty earlier than ever, while facing increasing social and educational demands, and experimenting with more freedom, autonomy and choice than ever before. The politically motivated defunding of youth services is therefore an attack on the family.

Nassau County’s broken promises and its propensity to use vulnerable young people as pawns in promoting partisan political interests represents a moral failing and a lack of leadership. Our elected representatives on both sides of the aisle should be ashamed of themselves for putting our most vulnerable young people in the political crosshairs. Who among them will stand and deliver to put an end to this madness?