2013 Westchester Women’s Summit Final Report

Thank you to all who attended the First ever Westchester Women’s Summit in March of 2013! Please feel free to review the summit report by clicking the link below.

WWA Summit Final Report-final

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE SUMMIT:

At a sold-out Westchester Women’s Summit on Saturday, March 2, 2013 women from all over Westchester County gathered to confront and take action on issues of concern to women. The goals of this first-ever Westchester Women’s Summit, sponsored by the Westchester Women’s Agenda and funded by grants from Eileen Fisher and others, were: “to change the cultural climate and the conversation around issues of concern to women in Westchester County, to engage women from all over the County to connect on issues that limit our opportunities and the contribution we can make to a stronger, more egalitarian Westchester; and to challenge, motivate and inspire ourselves to use the political system at the County level to create systemic social change.”

By all accounts, the Summit was a rousing success. Three hundred people registered for the event, held at the Yonkers Riverfront Library. In a moving keynote speech, the Reverend Noelle Damico offered a vision of “ONE Westchester,” “where we understand how our lives are intertwined and commit ourselves to realizing our common good” and invited the group to “move forward to create a Westchester County that upholds the dignity and equality of everyone.”

She characterized the concept of cutting vital services in the name of “fiscal responsibility” as “profound irresponsibility,” referring to policies which force a mother “to choose between keeping her job which is putting food on the table or putting her child in a precarious situation because of skyrocketing costs.” Citing statistics on inequalities such as the fact that in 2011 the 4-year college readiness rate in Bronxville was 99%, while in Yonkers it was 14%, she exhorted the group to let the affirmation that we are “ONE Westchester” “give us the courage and the tenacity to sit face to face and talk not only about our dreams but about our nightmares as well.”

In the breakout sessions which followed, participants took a first step towards realizing that vision of “ONE Westchester” by sitting face to face in small groups, sharing their personal stories and the concerns which brought them to this first-ever Westchester Women’s Summit. Breakout sessions focused on seven major areas of concern, including: financial wellbeing, housing and homeless prevention, violence against women, women’s access to health care, children’s services, civil legal services and immigration.

In small groups participants took the first steps to talk about their dreams and their nightmares by identifying the challenges and obstacles that limit their opportunities and arriving at a list of priorities for action in each of the areas of concern. In the reconvened session of the entire gathering which followed, participants made effective use of interactive voting technology, the financial support for which was generously donated by the Elias Foundation, to rank the priorities for action within each area. Top priorities for participants included: education at all ages for personal economic development, and the achievement of pay equity for women; the creation of more affordable housing and redefinition of affordable housing with revised criteria for eligibility for support services; affordable health care and the elimination of disparities in health care by race and ethnicity; transitional housing for victims of violence against women which allows them to keep non-offending family members together; access to affordable child care for all ages; affordable preventative legal clinics for education and advice; and access to health care for immigrants regardless of legal status.

These priorities and others raised at the Summit will become the basis for further planning and action by self-identified volunteers who acknowledge the interdependence of all our lives in Westchester, who care to commit to our mutual well-being and who desire to take part in efforts to reclaim the dignity and equality of everyone in Westchester County. Individuals interested in participating in these efforts should contact the Westchester Women’s Agenda.

Statement on Proposed 2012 Westchester County Budget

Westchester County has long partnered with private social-service agencies to deliver services to the county’s low-income and working residents. These programs, developed over the past 25 years, provide the safety-net that has improved the quality of life for tens of thousands of residents and saved taxpayers millions of dollars.

The proposed budget, if adopted, will dismantle this safety net and cost taxpayers millions of dollars to:

  • support parents who cannot work due to lack of child care

  • place families in emergency shelters due to lack of services to keep them in their homes

  • place people in psychiatric hospitals due to reduction in mental health services

  • place teens and young adults in the criminal justice system

The proposed budget, if adopted, will also:

  • allow communicable diseases to go unchecked

  • eliminate legal representation for tenants and the elderly who are abused

  • harm economic development and affordable housing production

  • fail to move immigrant families into the mainstream of the local economy

  • support a cycle of poverty

We find it hard to believe that the residents of Westchester County want this to happen…especially when prevention costs represent only .6% of the overall County budget.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

ENTREPRENEURIAL TRAINING:   Restore funding for entrepreneurial training programs and services for women to $99,790.

  • The proposed budget reduces the funding for entrepreneurial training and services from $99,790 adopted in the 2011 Budget to $40,000.  These programs provide training and services to low to moderate income women to start and grow small businesses which enable them to support themselves, their families and contribute to the economic vitality of the community.

  • Real cost of the cut:  It will deter job-growth and economic productivity and keep people on public assistance

SMALL BUSINESS LOANS: Restore funding for small business loans and technical support to $50,000.

  • The proposed budget eliminates the funding for small business loans and technical support from $50,000 adopted in the 2011 budget to zero.  This program provides loans to start up and emerging small businesses that cannot secure financing from bank lenders due to their restrictive credit and collateral requirements.

  • Real cost of the cut:  Entrepreneurs will not have the capital necessary to start or grow their businesses, employ workers, pay taxes or revitalize neighborhoods.

HOUSING & HOMELESS PREVENTION

HOMELESS PREVENTION:  Restore funding for Eviction Prevention/Cash Assistance to $200,000 and for Eviction Prevention Legal Services to $443,000

  • The proposed budget eliminates funding for cash assistance to prevent evictions and for legal services to represent tenants individually and tenant associations.

  • Real cost of the cut:   These programs stave off thousands of evictions.   The alternative is homelessness with the County paying thousands of dollars per month per family for shelter in hotels and emergency shelters.

AFFORDABLE HOUSING DEVELOPMENT:  Restore funding for technical assistance to $100,000 and for pre-development support to $50,000

  • The proposed budget reduces funding to support the development of  affordable housing, including technical assistance and pre-development support.  In the case of technical assistance, the funding is reduced from the 2011 budget level of $100,000 to $89,686; for pre-development support,  from $50,000 to $0.    These programs provide the infrastructure necessary for affordable housing development – technical assistance to identify sites, prepare development budgets, secure local approvals, obtain public and private funding, etc. and  affordable “patient” loans for site analyzes, architectural services, option agreements, etc.
  • Real cost of the cut:     Without support at the 2011 level, 50 homes will not be developed; 50 families will go without appropriate housing; greater compliance with the Housing Settlement will be threatened;  $12,500,000 in private investment will not be leveraged and 250 jobs will not be created.

HEALTH & MENTAL HEALTH

COMMUNITY HEALTH CENTERS:  Restore funding for Community Health Centers to $2.6 million.

  • The proposed budget eliminates tax levy funding of $1.9 million for three community health centers which provides medical care for thousands of low income residents.   It also jeopardizes $700,000 in State matching funds.
  • Real cost of the cut:  The County Executive’s budget message suggests that Community Health Centers do not need the funding, and that anyone who is not insured should apply to Medicaid and/or will not be turned away at a hospital.   Any patient who currently comes to a health center and is eligible for Medicaid or Child Health Plus is immediately enrolled.   Caring for patients, especially those with chronic illness through a health center is much less expensive than episodic, emergency care in a hospital.  It also provides the economic benefits of preventing acute illnesses and allowing patients to continue working.   Taxpayers are legally “on the hook” for caring for the uninsured.  Hospitals are the most expensive way to provide the care.

EARLY STEP FORWARD: Restore funding for Early Step Forward to $592,000.

  • The proposed budget eliminates 70% of the funding for Early Step Forward.  It is now in its fifth year of successfully providing mental health services to very young children and their families.  It helps children, parents and child care staff  cope with difficult emotions and behaviors.
  • Real cost of the cut:   Since the inception of the program, even the most challenging children have been able to remain in early childhood programs, thus better preparing them to function well in school and beyond.   Without these services, taxpayers will pay more for special education or behavioral interventions.

CHILDREN SERVICES

CHILD CARE SUBSIDIES/SCHOLARSHIPS:   Maintain parent share at 15% and restore $500,000 to the Child Care Scholarship Program

  • The proposed budget raises the parent share of the cost of child care from 15% to 35% of their income and has no funding for the Child Care Scholarship Program.
  • Real cost of the cut:   Decades of research has shown that excluding low income children from high quality early childhood learning opportunities raises future costs to taxpayers of remedial education, school failure and lower economic productivity throughout their lifetimes.   Without reliable affordable child care, parents will have to leave the workforce and enroll in public assistance.

INVEST IN KIDS:  Restore Invest in Kids Fund to $2.1 million.

  • The proposed budget reduces the Invest in Kids Fund from $2.1 million adopted in the 2011 budget to $1.3 million.  This fund supports dozens of programs – such as tutoring, mentoring, leadership, job readiness – for thousands of people throughout the County.
  • Real cost of the cut:  Positive out-of-school time opportunities for young people increase school success, reduce juvenile crime, and results in long term economic productivity, thus reducing societal costs.   Incarcerating one teenager costs about $240,000 per year.   Prevention costs just a tiny fraction of this amount, and helps youth and communities thrive.

CIVIL LEGAL SERVICES

Mt. Vernon Civil Legal Services Office:  Restore funding for the Mt. Vernon Civil Legal Services Office to $517,500

  • The proposed budget reduces the funding for this office from $517,500 adopted in the 2011 budget to $475,000.   Opened in 2007, the Mt. Vernon office provides legal assistance to economically disadvantaged people in practice areas, including housing, family law, benefits, education and consumer issues.  My Sisters’ Place provides specialized legal services to victims of domestic violence and the Empire Justice Center deals with the many legal issues facing immigrants.
  • Real cost of the cut:  Evictions will increase costing the County thousands of dollars per month per family for shelter in hotels and emergency shelters. Hundreds of children and adults in New Rochelle, Mt. Vernon and The Pelhams will have reduced access to safety at a time when families are facing stress, anxiety and abuse in the homes. Social services and medical costs will go up with more interventions and emergency room visits.

Elder Law Legal Services:   Restore funding for the Elder Law Program to $305,968

  • The proposed budget reduces the funding for the Elder Law Program from $305,968 adopted in the 2011 budget to $264,806.   This program provides a wide range of advocacy and legal representation to elderly clients in practice areas including housing, benefits, Medicaid, permanency planning and home care cases.

Elder Abuse Legal Services:   Restore funding for legal services for Elder Abuse to $97,000.

  • The proposed budget eliminates funding for legal services for elder abuse from $97,000 adopted in the 2011 budget to $0.  Elder law attorneys provide legal representation, advice, advocacy and referrals for victims of elder abuse on matters including physical abuse and financial exploitation.
  • Real cost of the cut:     Many elder abuse victims suffer the loss of physical and psychological well-being as well as loss of their financial security.   Mistreatment and abuse of our vulnerable seniors often results in a loss of their independence which in turn results in much higher costs to taxpayers.

Elder Law Community Outreach and Education:  Restore funding for the Elder Law Community Outreach and Education to $20,000

  • The proposed budget reduces the funding for this program from $20,000 adopted in the 2011 budget to $0.  For a relatively small grant, this program provides 12 Community Outreach and Education programs each year for over 2,800 Westchester residents and caregivers, and has been continuously funded for the past 11 years.  Elder Law attorneys provide information on topics such as services, resources and entitlements for caregivers, including social security benefits, estate planning, wills, living wills, powers of attorney, health care proxies, and end-of-life care issues.
  • Real cost of the cut:   Without outreach and legal education to hard-to-reach or isolated caregivers, older persons in their care may not receive information about options, services or benefits.

IMMIGRATION

Restore funding for case management services to $153,660 and legal services to $100,000

  • The proposed budget provides $0 funding for case management services and $0 funding for dedicated legal services for immigrants.  Immigrants currently make up 25% of the County’s population.   There has been no funding from the County for case management since 2009.   By investing in case management (help in enrolling children in school, budget counseling, employment services, landlord mediation to retain housing, etc.), the County can help stabilize newcomer families and assist them in accessing programs and services available to them. Legal assistance helps secure work authorizations, family reunification and status adjustments.
  • Real cost of the cost:   Without specialized support, newcomers cannot be effectively integrated into Westchester’s communities which will lead to homelessness and unemployment along with other societal costs.

Affordable housing, entrepreneurial training and access to health-care and child-care are essential for low-income women struggling to support their families. Victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence need services to assure their safety, and the ability to rebuild their lives.  Women who are ethnic minorities deserve equal access to opportunities for advancement in their communities.

Westchester County and WWA have made great progress in these areas – don’t dismantle now.   The price is too high while the prevention cost is low.  Ask yourself the question — Do Westchester residents want to:

  • Force parents to choose public assistance over working?

  • Push more people on to food stamps and welfare?

  • Increase the number of women and children who are homeless?

  • Increase gang violence, teen pregnancy and drug use?

  • Decrease access to health care and increase the spread of communicable disease.

2011 Policy Statement

2011 Westchester County

Policy Statement

The Westchester Women’s Agenda understands the tough choices faced by county policymakers this year.  Pressures to hold the line on the county tax levy have grown.  At the same time, demands for county services have mounted, in the face of growing poverty, unemployment, and foreclosures.

As county policymakers move forward on the 2011 budget, we urge them to consider the following actions:

  • Partner with nonprofit community agencies to deliver cost-effective services
  • Invest in preventive services that stave off higher public costs
  • Maintain county programs that leverage state and federal monies
  • Consider sale of county assets or increased user fees
  • Preserve the safety-net of county social services

The Westchester Women’s Agenda also urges the policymakers to consider the ramifications of their actions, cognizant that their budget cuts could:

  • Force families onto public assistance
  • Increase homelessness
  • Reduce services to victims of rape, battered women and their children
  • Let gang violence, teen pregnancy or drug-use to increase
  • Allow communicable disease to spread

As the local economy struggles to emerge from the recession, a growing number of working families have fallen into need. Demand for services is increasing at our community-based organizations.  Westchester County and local non-profits have built a solid network of services to protect the vulnerable and help them re-enter the mainstream.

Dismantling this network, while seemingly providing momentary relief to Westchester taxpayers, will not provide lasting savings.  Many of those residents served today will lose their supports and could end up burdening taxpayers with higher public assistance costs. Dismantling the safety-net, which we’ve woven together through a thriving public-private partnership, will also diminish the county’s quality of life, and make Westchester a less desirable place for families to live, and for employers who do business here.