Last updated: Sunday June 20, 2010, 10:27 AM
BY ELIZABETH LLORENTE
another Reminder :
Hispanic leaders are warning that Governor Christie‘s proposed budget cuts will devastate their communities by leaving little or no funding for programs that assist the unemployed, disabled and the destitute, among others.
Leaders are particularly concerned about the pending elimination of the Center for Hispanic Policy, Research and Development, which funnels funds to some 40 agencies that they say serve about 300,000 mostly low-income Latinos annually. The 35-year-old department, they note, is the only state agency that focuses on Hispanics.
The cuts are the latest source of frustration among Hispanics over Christie. They were angered by his decision to drop legal immigrants who are not naturalized U.S. citizens from NJ FamilyCare, a health insurance program for low-income parents, and by the possibility that he would eliminate the Commission on New Americans, a long-awaited initiative by his predecessor to address immigrant issues in New Jersey.
“This is not shared sacrifice,” said Guillermo Beytagh-Maldonado, executive director of the Hispanic Directors Association, an umbrella group, referring to the proposed cuts. “He’s cutting our head off. So many people in New Jersey are talking about how Hispanics are going be profiled in Arizona because of the new immigration law. But right here in New Jersey we’re being profiled, we’re being treated outrageously.”
Hispanics say Christie seems indifferent to the problems and needs of their communities, though Hispanics are now the state’s largest minority group, making up 16 percent of the population. Nearly 30 percent of the state’s Hispanics in New Jersey are uninsured and about 16 percent live in poverty.
Deborah Howlett, the head of New Jersey Policy Perspective, said that about 80 percent of residents will be affected by Christie’s cuts to varying degrees.
“The economic recession has hit minorities harder than other people,” Howlett said. “People in lower income brackets, which include a disproportionate share of Hispanics, are being asked to shoulder more of the burden because they’re more reliant on the social services being cut.”
A spokesman for Christie said the governor was not singling Hispanics out, or acting insensitively toward them.
“No one can possibly say they’re being singled out,” said Michael Drewniak, Christie’s spokesman. “That’s just ridiculous. It’s a wrong assumption. By that logic, we’re targeting every group of every kind.”
“The governor is trying to tackle an $11 billion deficit that he inherited,” Drewniak said. “The cuts must be deep and wide.”
Drewniak said the cuts were not made thoughtlessly.
“We tried to be as careful as we could,” he said. “Everyone is pretty much in the same boat.”
Hispanic leaders say they understand that the governor faces a tough job in trying to deal with the deficit.
“We’re all willing to tighten our belts,” said Lorenzo Hernandez, who heads the Hispanic Information Center of Passaic, one of the agencies that gets funding from the Center for Hispanic Policy, Research and Development.
But Hernandez and other leaders say it is a mistake to slash funding for Hispanic community organizations that serve a group that not only is one of the most needy in the state, but one whose language and cultural barriers make access to services difficult.
“When I lost my job, my employer did not pay me vacation or holiday pay that I was owed,” said Maria Cristina Caballero, a Passaic resident who came to this country from Colombia two years ago. “I tried going for help to public agencies but got nowhere, and I felt I was in a hopeless, dead-end situation.”
Caballero went to the Hispanic Information Center, which provides a wide range of services, including assistance to domestic violence victims, the unemployed and people who need shelter, food and medical attention. The center helped Caballero get the money owed to her by her former employer.
“I would not have gotten it on my own,” Caballero said. “I was truly lost and overwhelmed.”
Many people who turn to the Paramus-based Hispanic Institute for Research and Development, which offers classes such as word processing and English, have lost jobs and are trying to get back on their feet, said Emilio Fandino, the non-profit group’s executive director. Many of the clients of HIRD, which gets about $75,000 from the state, have taken free English and job skills classes elsewhere, but those usually cover only the basics, Fandino said. The institute offers classes in conjunction with Bergen Community College.
“If we stopped getting the funding from the state, maybe about 200 people wouldn’t get the scholarships we give them, and couldn’t take the classes because they can’t afford it,” Fandino said.
Beytagh-Maldonado has met with legislators to drum up support for restoring funds for programs on which many Hispanics depend. Hispanics in New Jersey typically have received inadequate resources from the state government, he said.
“I don’t think the state has ever really adjusted to the reality that Hispanics are the group with the most needs,” he said. “We have the highest dropout rates, highest uninsured, high poverty rate, and the community is growing in New Jersey.”
Of the community-based agencies, he said: “They go with the people to the schools, talk with the teachers, with social workers. These are the people on the front lines who provide preventative services so that problems don’t get bigger and become crises.”
Many of the agencies and programs were set up in the 1970s and 1980s in response to the growth of immigrant residents who lacked the linguistic skills and knowledge about U.S. public agencies to access services on their own.
“So the idea was to have people from the community, who knew the language and culture, to guide these immigrants,” said Frank Argote-Freyre, a professor at Kean University and head of the state Commission on New Americans, an advisory group that has expressed concerns about Christie’s willingness to keep it alive.
Like other Latino leaders, Argote-Freyre and Beytagh-Maldonado called Christie’s decision to drop legal immigrants from the state’s insurance program for the poor a harsh move.
Nearly 12,000 legal immigrant parents are being removed from the program. U.S. citizen parents are also to be denied coverage if their annual family income exceeds $24,000 a year for a family of three.
“They’re taking people from FamilyCare and are going to force them into charity care,” Beytagh-Maldonado said. “When immigrants can’t get access to health care, everyone is affected, everyone’s health is at risk. All these cuts are just going to end up being more expensive for New Jersey in the long run.”
Last updated: Monday June 21, 2010, 5:01 PM
The state Senate Monday approved a resolution urging Governor Christie not to join 20 other states in a lawsuit against the federal health care reform law.
Christie has faced pressure from conservative activists to join the suit, which argues the law’s penalty on individuals for not buying insurance is unconstitutional. Senate Democrats, in turn, responded with the resolution, which points out that Christie was able to restore proposed cuts to subsidized senior drug programs in part with money allocated from the law.
Christie has not said whether he plans to join the suit. Most of the states challenging the law have either Republican governors or elected Republican attorneys general.
“You can’t have it both ways. You can’t be for the senior citizens and use the Obama health care plan to fund their programs and then challenge it in court,” said state Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), a sponsor.