Cuts for Grandparent Program Impacts Kids

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By William Guzman

Seventeen-year-old Quanasa Williams, who was raised by her grandmother, never thought about going to college. But thanks to the academic support she received in the Grandparent Family Housing program in the Morrisania section of the Bronx, she is headed to college next fall.

Sadly, she may be the last one to have that opportunity.

Grandchildren being raised by their grandparents could be driven back to life on the streets after Governor Cuomo’s budget cuts were made official on April 1, 2011.

“I don’t know why they [government] would take away these programs,” said Hilda Williams, Quanasa’s grandmother.

grandparentThe Grandparent Family Housing is a state-funded program that began in 2005 to help low-income grandparents take care of their grandchildren. Some of these grandchildren come from tough backgrounds: the juvenile system, foster care, and broken homes. This program is designed to keep young people off the streets. Services such as counseling, after-school activities and college opportunities will all be eliminated.

Katherine Martinez, Deputy Director of Grandparent Family Housing, said that the budget cuts eliminate $25 million that the program receives in funds. The program depended on the Kinship, State Housing for Families and Young Adults (SHFYA), and Community Services Block Grants (CSBG) funds and now all three have been cut.

Efforts to contact the governor’s press office to explain the cuts were not returned.

Advocates contend that they did everything they could to prevent the elimination of these programs, including placing videos on YouTube and organizing rallies to spread the word. The program’s administrators and some of the families even went to Albany to have their voices heard. The families and the staff wondered why this program was being cut, instead of building upon it across the country. They said they felt that the program is so successful that every state should have one, because the number of children being raised by their grandparents is increasing.

Linda Rosario, 63, is raising her six-year-old granddaughter and she said she is worried about her granddaughter’s well being when she is not in school. “I’m scared because I knew where she would go after school,” Rosario said. “Now I have to pay even more attention to keep her on the right track.”

Rosario was shocked when the proposed budget cuts were released and the programs would all be cut. “I was distraught because these politicians talk about keeping kids off the streets,” she said. “But they put them out there.”

Denise Johnson, 14, said she was on the wrong path but turned her life around when she moved to live with her grandmother. “I was a bit of a troublemaker earlier in my childhood,” she said. “But living here with the support group given to me has been a blessing.” Johnson plans attend high school this fall.

Johnson’s grandmother, Wanda Reid, 67, who also raises Johnson’s younger brother, is very concerned about the future of the other children who participated in these services. She thinks they will head back on the wrong path. “These children need these programs and especially the support group around them to keep them from joining gangs or trying drugs,’’ she said.

Some of the local Bronx politicians involved at a March rally to keep the program were State Senator Ruben Diaz, Sr., Congressman Jose Serrano and Councilwoman Maria Del Arroyo, who said they were all in support of keeping these services at the Davidson campus in the Bronx. Assemblyman Eric Stevenson organized the rally. “We can balance the budget elsewhere,” Stevenson said.

Congressman Jose Serrano said rallies like these are important because it showed that citizens were willing to fight for what they believe is right: not accepting unfair cuts that will hurt their community.

Studies have shown that these practices help youth stay off the streets and help them to be successful. Michele Chapple, Director of Social Services for the Kinship program said, “Eighty-three out of 93 kids move to the next level of grade — 15 of which will go to college.” Chapple pointed out that these programs being cut will be a “devastating loss.”

These services assist youth dealing with emotional stress, said Chapple, and she emphasized that they are designed for children living without their parents, helping them to deal with their lives.

Since the budget cuts were signed into law, the program’s administrative staff is looking for ways to get funds to keep the program up and running.

“Nobody knows what the future holds,” Rosario said. “But the government is putting innocent lives on line.”

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