Health and human services represent 40 percent of the Nassau County budget but have been an “afterthought” when it comes to getting the attention of county government, Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi told representatives of UJA-Federation’s social service network on Long Island.
“Everyone knows how important these services are,” said Suozzi, Nassau’s first Democratic county executive in nearly 40 years, last week at UJA-Federation’s annual Long Island Legislative Breakfast at the Mid-Island Y JCC in Plainview.
He lamented that under his Republican predecessor, Thomas Gulotta, the county provided “no coordination” of health and human services programs. The county gave grants to support these programs but no analysis was ever done regarding their effectiveness or the proper distribution of services. The programs were simply funded because they had been for the past 20 or 25 years.
“If your program is effective and fulfills an important need, you have no problem,” Suozzi said, adding that it would take awhile for his administration to sort through the programs and that changes would not be made this year.
“We have to identify the kind of services Nassau County provides and see where services are provided, and where there are geographical holes and duplications,” Suozzi added.
Ron Soloway, UJA-Federation’s managing director of government and external relations, told the meeting that in the past state legislators have sponsored bills totaling about $500 million to support specific projects of his organization’s agencies on Long Island. But this year only $200 million has been allocated and the agencies are concerned that the full $500 million may not be forthcoming in the 2002 budget, which begins April 1.
The agencies were particularly concerned about funding, Soloway said, because of Nassau County’s fiscal crisis and the fact that the recession has increased the need for many social service programs.
He said, for instance, that in the past the county has provided a salary supplement for day care workers at the South Shore Y JCC. And he noted that the county has provided a $50,000 grant for a respite program at the Sid Jacobson Y JCC in East Hills that provides relief for the caretakers of Alzheimer’s victims, the frail elderly and others.
In addition, Soloway pointed out that the Meals on Wheels program, in which the Jewish Association for Services for the Aged provides 58,000 meals to the elderly and disabled, is running at a $52,000 deficit and that he hoped the county would provide a grant to close the gap.