By La Toya Tooles
More than a 100 representatives of multicultural community service programs in the state met today on the steps of city hall to protest recent changes to the New York state budget.
In July, Governor David A. Paterson vetoed 6,700 line items in the budget that amounted to $190 million state given grants to community-based organizations.
State senator Ruth Hassel-Thompson, chairwoman of the New York Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus, scheduled the hearing so the 46-member body could hear from community organizations about the immediate and long-term impacts of the budget cuts.
“Communities of color in New York State were already suffering before these vetoes,” said Hassel Thompson. “Additional cuts to the vital services offered by these already underfunded not-for-profit organizations could be devastating.”
Laurie Cumbo, founder and executive director of the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts, spoke on behalf of her ten-year-old museum and several other cultural organizations of Brooklyn. Cumbo organizes film festivals, art exhibits, job training and artist partnerships to introduce people to the modern African traditions.
“This funding is going to have a critical impact on our organization,” Cumbo said at a press conference before the state senate. “By cutting this funding we are going to move New York state backwards as far as development of the community and the development of culture.”
To the museum and many of the other organizations, the grants were large portions of their yearly budgets. A third of the museum’s $600,000 annual budget came from New York State’s line item budget.
Without additional funds, the future of the African Diaspora museum and the other nonprofits may include discontinuing services to their community or closing all together.
“Our organizations cannot survive. We do not have deep pocket funders, cash reserves and large endowments,” Cumbo said.
Money from the 2009 budget was withheld from the groups when the state went over budget last year.
According to Cumbo, organizations with grants from the state operate on a reimbursement system.
“We have to spend that money and then wait for the state to reimburse us. We’ve been waiting for almost eight months for that check to come in from the senate,” she said.
Assemblyman Jose Rivera, who represents the state’s 78th district, which covers northern Bronx, spoke at the press conference and at the hearing, urging the Governor to reverse his vetoes.
“[The nonprofits] will be, in all likelihood, totally eliminated from doing the kind of work we need from them and the services they have been providing for years in our city,“ said Rivera. “$100 million in a budget that [spends] over 100 billion for this state, is just a drop in the bucket.”
However, until the state’s revenues increase it is unlikely that the grants will be reinstated to the budget.
“Governor Paterson will not allow the State to continue spending money it does not have,” said Jessica Bassett, press secretary for the Governor.
“While he takes no pleasure in reducing funding to worthy organizations, the Governor has had to make difficult decisions to keep State spending within its means.”