SUFFOLK COUNTY EXECUTIVE’S PROPOSAL TO CUT HUMAN SERVICES TO FILL a $140-180 MILLION BUDGET GAP HAS TO BE CONSIDERED CAREFULLY BEFORE THOSE IN NEED GET HURT
By now most if not all the residents of Suffolk County know that the County is in fiscal destress, and County Executive Steve Bellone and the County Legislature must close a projected budget deficit of between $140-180 million to balance the 2017 budget. As expected, human services and the not-for-profit corporate sector that contracts with Suffolk County are on target to have their contracts reduced in 2017 following a 10% reduction in support in 2016. It’s now up to the members of the Suffolk County Legislature to work with the County Executive to decide which human service contracts are cut or decimated and which population will suffer the most. Already, some legislators have voiced opposition to cutting funding for mental health and substance abuse services in light of the local opioid addiction crisis on Long Island. I can see the lines forming at the upcoming budget hearings with my colleagues from the not-for-profit sector protesting additional cuts in human service spending. The legislators will hear from advocates for seniors, veterans, children’s services, homelessness, disabilities, and even hunger making the case for no further cuts to their county contracts, and they all will be justified in their appeals.
Those of us who lead not-for-profit organizations understand why the services we provide are essential, but we also know that we must present balanced budgets to our Boards each year and sometimes in order to balance our budgets we also have to make cuts to various budget lines. We often will reduce non-essential expenses like office supplies, conference registrations, promotional items, etc. before we cut into those essential services that people require such as counseling, housing, case management, family support, day care and yes, food. This is the challenge that County Executive Bellone and the Legislators have before them- which services are essential and which can the County function without, even for a temporary period until the County can recover. We have a drug problem on Long Island but we also have a homeless problem and an affordable housing problem, and there are over 48,000 children that are food insecure living in Suffolk County. Ultimately, the legislature will decide where budget cuts are made, and I doubt that most human service programs will be spared. This is how it happened in Nassau County in the 80’s when human service contracts were cut by more than 50%. Some organizations closed, others merged, many survived but the County’s human service infrastructure never rebounded and people in need were hurt.
Before not-for-profit leaders begin to descend on the County Center we need to consider how as a sector we put aside our differences and own organizational needs for the greater needs of Suffolk residents. If it means that we rally around mental health and substance abuse to make sure that their essential services continue to receive support, or we rally around Veterans Services because they deserve the support, we have to carefully consider all options to help address the fiscal crisis before those in need get hurt.
This article initially appeared in the HIA-LI Reporter, October, 2016