Democratic Westchester Legislators Call Astorino’s Faith-Based Initiative a Smokescreen for His Budget Cuts

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 16, 2013

Contact: Tom Staudter | ThomasS@westchesterlegislators.com | 914-995-2819 (office) | 914-815-4462 (cell)

Democratic Legislators Call Astorino’s Faith-Based Initiative a “Smokescreen” for His Budget Cuts

White Plains, NY – Two Democratic members of the Westchester County Board of Legislators (BOL), Alfreda Williams and MaryJane Shimsky, were critical of County Executive Rob Astorino’s faith-based community partnership initiative, which he announced today, calling it a “smokescreen” for his cuts to important programs and services in the County’s 2013 Budget.

All Astorino’s initiative basically does is name Deputy Commissioner Rosa Boone from the County’s Department of Social Services (DSS) as a liaison to religious organizations around Westchester for information about the County’s safety net services. A new page on the Westchester website includes Boone’s contact information in this regard.

“County Executive Astorino wants people to think that his faith-based community initiative will deliver necessary help to Westchester’s neediest and working poor, but throughout his entire Administration he has worked to cut or eliminate funding for dozens of programs aimed at protecting the well-being of our residents,” said Legislator Williams (D-Greenburgh), chair of the BOL’s Community Services Committee.

“Today’s announcement simply served as a smokescreen for his cuts in this year’s budget, which have angered and dismayed residents across Westchester.”

Many of the programs cut or eliminated in the Astorino 2013 Budget were, ironically enough, being run out of churches, synagogues and other houses of worship or facilities owned by faith-based organizations around Westchester. This includes food bank programs whose funding—$150,000—was entirely cut, including one program, the Westchester Coalition for the Hungry and Homeless, of which Deputy Commissioner Boone was formerly executive director!

And although Astorino said his initiative was meant to cut governmental “red tape,” it actually creates another level of governmental bureaucracy between residents in need and the County programs or services they are seeking.

“Information regarding County programs is readily available—that’s not the problem,” added Williams. “The County Executive is shrinking or eliminating the programs and services that the County is mandated to provide—that’s the problem.”

Legislator Shimsky (D-Hastings-on-Hudson) noted that the County Executive’s “hit list” of important programs and services in this year’s budget, besides food banks, included funding for senior nutrition programs, after school and youth job programs, eviction protection services, child care subsidies, and neighborhood health centers. Even a youth program supported by Baltimore Ravens running back and New Rochelle native Ray Rice saw its funding slashed.

“The County Executive’s budget cuts will imperil our residents by denying vital services to at-risk populations,” said Shimsky. “Enlisting clergy members to send their congregation members who need real help toward programs he’s working to cut is a potentially unhelpful thing to do.”

Yesterday, Astorino again stated that the County’s subsidized child care program had a $3 million deficit at the end of 2012—the same figure he floated all year long in trying to justify his decision to raise the family share for subsidized child care from 20% to 35% of the portion of income that exceeds the federal poverty level. (The BOL successfully thwarted the increase for through court action). But Astorino should note that the County’s budget line which includes the child care subsidy program shows a $1,276,930.35 surplus in 2012.

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=Bazzo 01/17/13

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