Administration’s Funding Process for Youth Programs Ignores County Law

White Plains, NY – Democratic caucus members of the Westchester County Board of Legislators (BOL) serving on the Community Services Committee pressed Dr. Iris Pagan, executive director of the Westchester County Youth Bureau, this week to explain why established and proven providers participating in the County’s Invest-in-Kids (IIK) program were no longer being funded by the County. Providers expressed concern in recent weeks that the process had been severely delayed, causing havoc to ongoing programs with proven success rates.

Twenty programs that received IIK funding in 2014 were notified last week that there would be no funding in 2015, contrary to a law passed in 2011 that guaranteed funding for current programs with proven success as part of the County Budget. Instead, the Astorino Administration issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for IIK youth services in October 2014 and asked current program providers to apply as well. To date, the BOL has not been privy to the 133 RFPs received by the Administration, the criteria for evaluating the RFPs, or the scores put on the RFPs—all of which Legislator Alfreda Williams (D-Greenburgh), chair of the Community Services Committee, has asked Pagan to provide to the BOL.

“The entire process for deciding the 2015 contracts for Invest-in-Kids was conducted without regard to County law, and this irresponsible and deplorable action is now hurting many of our residents,” said Williams. “The Board of Legislators and Administration need to work together on this, and the best way to start to make this right is to restore grants to agencies so they can start delivering important services to our at-risk youths.”

Dr. Pagan told legislators at the BOL meeting this week that instead of the usual evaluation process for the RFPs, which involved members of the County’s Youth Council and Westchester Campaign for Kids Coalition (in order to ensure objectivity and reduce political bias), she was instructed this year to keep the process “in house.” The 2011 IIK legislation notes, “No changes to contracts between the County and agencies providing Invest in Kids Fund programs are permitted without the prior approval of the Board of Legislators.”

Amazingly, Dr. Pagan admitted to not knowing anything about the 2011 County law governing the Youth Bureau and IIK funding for agencies currently providing program for children at risk.

“This was another back room deal, lacking the community involvement and transparency of past years. Westchester kids are getting hurt…again,” said BOL Majority Leader Catherine Borgia (D-Ossining). “The Administration needs to follow the law and provide the continuity of existing child safety net programs with proven success rates.”

Officials from more than a dozen IIK providers attended today’s BOL Community Services Committee meeting. Cheryl Hunter-Grant, a licensed social worker and executive director of the Lower Hudson Valley Perinatal Network based in Hawthorne, NY, noted that the Healthy from Birth to Life program, an IIK provider since 2006, was told that its $45,000 grant proposal for 2015 had been rejected by the County Youth Bureau. The money has been funding a youth services coordinator for the 90 at-risk youth in the program.

“There’ll be no ongoing support for these individuals now with the loss of the Invest-in-Kids grant,” said Hunter-Grant. “Adolescence is such a vulnerable period of time, and even more so for youths in disenfranchised communities. The program coordinator was their advocate—and she’ll be greatly missed. But there’s still time to regroup and salvage this if the funding is restored.”