‘Cuomo is proposing cuts to two vital funding streams that have worked for years to keep New York’s children safe…It is irresponsible and immoral.’

Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

A scene from the first day of school in NYC.

In the wake of New York State’s necessary shelter-in-place order, incidents of domestic violence, child abuse, and other traumas to children have risen alarmingly.

New York needs to take immediate action to protect children from trauma and to mitigate the effects of any Adverse Childhood Experiences (“ACEs”) so children who have lived through trauma are not defined or doomed by the experience. Gov. Andrew Cuomo does not seem interested in addressing these serious matters — his budget proposes no help for the hundreds of thousands of children traumatized during New York State’s shelter in place order. Even worse, Gov. Cuomo’s proposed budget preserves tax breaks for the ultra-rich and then includes deep spending cuts that will undeniably result in even more children facing abuse.

These children will face increased risks of headaches, fatigue, anxiety, irritability, emotional outbursts, self-harm, over and under eating, alcohol and substance abuse, and suicide, as well as cardiovascular disease, asthma, obesity, cancer, heart disease, and autoimmune diseases. When children are subjected to trauma, their bodies produce hormones that damage the structure and function of their developing brains. Elevated levels of cortisol affect a child’s ability to pay attention, plan, self-monitor, self-regulate, and maintain short-term memories.

Through no fault of their own, many children who face trauma will find themselves trapped in cycles of generational poverty; many will experience homelessness, many will fail out of school, many will become addicted to alcohol or other substances, and many will be incarcerated due to unaddressed trauma.  These avoidable outcomes will ruin lives and cost our society billions every year. With the proper protections and preventative services in place, however, these traumas can be mitigated and, in some cases, avoided altogether. 

Unfortunately, the initial state Executive Budget proposal from Gov. Cuomo disregards these facts. Gov. Cuomo is proposing cuts to two vital funding streams that have worked for years to keep New York’s children safe: Community Optional Preventive Services (community-based, family-centered assistance programs found across the state) and a second child welfare funding stream that reimburses counties 62 percent, without limits, for any investments they make into child abuse/foster care prevention services. These programs help prevent children from experiencing trauma. 

Cuts like these from this governor are nothing new. Three years ago, Gov. Cuomo proposed ending the uncapped reimbursement for counties investing in preventative services, a policy that has dramatically reduced incidents of child abuse and the number of children in foster care. This year, he is trying to push these costs onto counties that may not be able to afford it during this pandemic. It is irresponsible and immoral.

Gov. Cuomo is now proposing policies that are breathtakingly short-sighted, stunningly cold-hearted, and fiscally absurd. It would be bad enough in a regular year to consider a proposal that hurts kids and will ultimately cost taxpayers huge amounts of money every year for decades to come. To do so at a moment when New York’s children are facing such dramatically increased rates of trauma sinks to a new level of bad government.

As the chairpeople of the Standing Committees on Children and Families in the New York State Senate and Assembly, we are calling on our colleagues to stand with us to reject Gov. Cuomo’s proposed cuts to these programs and work with us to assist children traumatized during the pandemic. We must end tax breaks for the ultra-rich and invest in something far more critical to our future: the protection of our children.  

Jabari Brisport is a state senator representing the 25th district in Brooklyn. Andrew Hevesi is an assembly member representing the 28th district in Queens.