Tuesday, August 2, 2011

AARP & Kincare Advocates Urged Governor Andrew Cuomo To Find Funding

By Katie Miecznikowski

August 01, 2011

AARP and kincare advocates urged Governor Andrew Cuomo, in a July 19 letter, to find funding to maintain programs they say are critical for children cared for by non-parent relatives.

"As leaders of organizations deeply concerned with family issues, grandparents and children," the letter reads, "we are writing with great urgency to ask that you fund just $1.3 million to maintain programs critical to the health, well-being and safety of grandparents struggling to raise their own grandchildren."

These kinship programs, designed by the state Office of Children and Family Services, allow community-based organizations to deliver services, such as counseling, legal help, support groups, parenting skills workshops and education to address the needs of kinship caregivers.

Kinship programs, according to the letter sent to Cuomo, have cost the state about $500 per child each year, as opposed to the $22,000 cost of traditional foster care.

These caregivers are non-parent relatives, such as grandparents, who step in and care for children whose parents enter the military, become sick, go to jail, or are unable to care for them for other reasons.

State budget cuts implemented in April have forced over half of these community programs to close their doors or greatly reduce services.

The 2009-2010 state budget provided $2,750,700 from Temporary Assistance to Needy Families and state general funds to the state's 21 kinship programs. Two years later in the 2011-2012 budget there was $389,750 in supplied funds — an 87.7 percent decrease.

According to a letter released by Gerard Wallace, director of the New York State Kinship Navigator, eight of the 21 state kinship programs have contracts in place until the end of November, while 13 programs – supporting 3,172 kinship families – were contracted until this past May or June.

The state Office of Children and Family Services, the main contributor to kinship programs, decided only to continue funding the programs with contracts ending in November, he wrote, because of the cut in state aid.

The office is attempting to find funds for eight of the 13 programs, whose contracts ended in the spring, through "one time" funds contributed by the services office along with the funding requested in the letter sent to Cuomo, said Susan Steele, the assistant director of communications for the Office of Children and Family Services. All 13 programs could be reopened if the $1.3 million comes through.

"When significant cuts are made, we can't assume programs will be able to continue," said former Senate Aging Committee Chairman Jeffrey Dinowitz, D-Bronx. "Because, if the cut is too large, the programs might not be able to sustain themselves. There's only so much belt tightening to be done."

"We shouldn't delude ourselves into thinking these cuts aren't going to affect people," he added, "and, unfortunately, these cuts are affecting some of our most fragile – our senior citizens. It's a shame."

In New York, there are between 200,000 and 300,000 children who live with relatives who are not their parents, according to Wallace. This compares with the 23,000 children in the state who are in foster care, 6,200 of whom live with relatives in foster care settings.

It's likely that many of the children living with relatives involved with the kinship programs will need to relocate to foster care because of the cut in funds, said Amy Paulin, D-Scarsdale, who chairs the Assembly Children and Families Committee.

"When you shut down programs intended to protect and prevent, it's going to have a worse outcome for children and families and financially (for the state)," she said.

According to Paulin, there was no funding for these programs in the original budget. The Legislature and Gov. Cuomo restored what remained in the final budget. The assemblywoman says she is not optimistic about the kinship programs regaining funds before next year's budget is decided. Neither is Sen. Dinowitz.

"I'm not sure new money is available now that wasn't four months ago," he said.

Susan Antos, senior attorney at The Empire Justice Center, an advocacy group involved with AARP on this issue, says Gov. Cuomo has not responded to their letter.

"We hope that he (Gov. Cuomo) will see it is a cost-effective program worth investing in," said Antos, "and that if the Legislature doesn't come back this summer, that it will be high on his radar screen for next year."

Source: http://www.legislativegazette.com/Articles-c-2011-08-01-79755.113122-Help-needed-for-grandparents-caring-for-their-grandchildren.html

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