Ethnic Coalition Protests Cuts
March 19, 2002
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By SETH MNOOKIN
Yesterday, the representatives from the coalition's nine members met at the Manhattan offices of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty to discuss possible strategies for getting the funding restored. Today, Met Council executive director William Rapfogel is scheduled to speak with Senator Schumer as part of an effort to ask lawmakers to put pressure on the mayor.
In these early days of Michael Bloomberg's tenure as mayor, the coalition, like many groups that depend on city support, is looking for signs of how he will approach the delicate topic of how city social-service spending is allocated. Coalition members say their worst fear is that the scrapping of the relatively small Extended Services program, funded by the city's Department for the Aging, is indicative of an administration approach that will neglect them when it comes to social service funding.
"I'm scared to think that's what he really believes," said the executive director of the American Italian Coalition of Organizations, Jerry Chiappetta. "But right now we don't know what is going on. We're baffled. Even in seemingly affluent communities there are always pockets were people are living in a marginal existence, and they need help," he said. In 2001, the Italian group received $199,181 in city funding under the Extended Services program.
"We certainly hope nobody is pitting one group against another," said the executive director of Hellenic American Neighborhood Action Committee, John Kaiteris. "The majority of the clients we serve are elderly, and they're elderly whether or not they're a minority or any other group. My sense is unfortunately the commissioner here didn't really think through what his cuts were going to be."
The commissioner of the city's Department for the Aging, Edwin Mendez-Santiago, said neither his department nor the Bloomberg administration viewed social service dollars as needing to go primarily to black and Hispanic communities. "We'd never look at it that way," he said. "We look at the actual services that are provided, and tried to see where best to cut."
The Extended Services program began in 1973 and for three decades has been channeling city money to nonprofit social-service groups. For instance, the Hellenic American Neighborhood Action Committee has Greek-speaking staff that advise people on whether they qualify for welfare benefits, free meals or other programs funded through the city, state, and federal government or private charities. The groups also help with job placement and training, home health care, and a range of other services.
In 1991, the program was transferred from the city's Human Resources Administration to its Department for the Aging. However, the program does not cater exclusively to senior citizens. "Less than 100 percent of the services provided [by the program] go directly to seniors, and we were hoping we could set up other options that the seniors could reach out to," Mr. Mendez-Santiago said.
Mr. Mendez-Santiago says he needed to cut the amount of city money he used by 16 percent, or about $26 million, to help close the city's $4 billion budget gap. Mr. Mendez-Santiago said that instead of cutting all of the departmentÕs programs, he looked for programs he could cut while "minimizing the impact of services. We didn't want to touch any program that serves the frail, those that are homebound. We didn't want to cut any home-delivered meals."
But this betrays a lack of understanding about how the program works, according to the coalition.
"We haven't had a problem since the last year of the Dinkins administration," said the executive director of the United Irish Foundation, Ahmed Kamal. While coalition members say they were expecting some cuts, they say they had not imagined the program would be scrapped entirely.
"We hope this isn't just a game of chicken," Mr. Rapfogel said. "We hope the mayor isn't daring the city council not to restore this money with their own money," or discretionary budget.
"If it's a game, it's a game that is very scary to seniors," Mr. Rapfogel said. "We're going to ratchet up the pressure. If we wanted to, we could flood City Hall with letters. But we want to see if we can work this out without it coming to that."
Mr. Rapfogel said he's already lobbied for support from a number of elected politicians, such as Representatives Anthony Wiener and Jerrold Nadler. "We're going to be talking to city, state, and federal legislators. Look, I hope to have Mike Bloomberg on board. The last thing we want to do is to get into a battle. We think this is a slightly misguided decision, that they donÕt realize the full extent of these services, and we want to educate them."
Antiriot Force: A front-page article in today's New York Times about labor unrest in China refers to "the People's Armed Police, the main antiriot force." Given the Times's reluctance to use the word "riot" to describe genuine riots like the one that happened in Crown Heights, it's amazing to see the Times describe an antiworker, pro-Communist force as an antiriot force. It makes no more sense than describing the guards in the Soviet gulag as antiriot forces, or the British in revolutionary America as antiriot forces. They are not antiriot forces, they are antifreedom forces.
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