Assemblymen Steve Hawley (Batavia) and Jake Ashby (Castleton), both veterans themselves, alongside their colleagues in the Assembly Minority Conference co-hosted a “Voices for Veterans” event today at the American Legion Cottreall-Warner Post 942 in Webster, where they called for the immediate restoration of Gov. Cuomo’s planned $5.68 million cut to veterans’ services.
Gov. Cuomo’s 2020-2021 Executive Budget takes aim at initiatives that range from helping soldiers manage PTSD and mental health challenges, to enabling veterans to find job-training and successful careers, to improving access to VA services and quality healthcare.
“Our veterans and their families have sacrificed so much to serve and protect our great nation. They have more than earned our support – this is why I am fighting to restore $6 million in funding for veterans programs,” said Ashby, the ranking Republican member on the Assembly Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. “Every year the governor tries to chip away at funding for veterans – funding that provides mental health services and critical help with the transition to civilian life. We won’t let him get away with it. New York must restore its support and commitment to veterans now.”
The largest cut proposed is to the wildly successful, popular Joseph P. Dwyer Veteran Peer-to-Peer Program. The governor’s budget eliminates more than $4 million from the counseling program that allows veterans to connect with other men and women who have served in the Armed Forces and are facing challenges similar to their own.
“These programs are the life blood of our veterans’ support network. Gutting funding for them is a slap in the face to the men and women who have risked their lives to protect ours,” Hawley said. “This isn’t a game. I am calling on Andrew Cuomo to restore his proposed funding cuts and stop playing politics with the well-being of our veterans.”
Among some of the other veteran-related programs facing funding cuts are:
- Helmets-to-Hardhats: $200,000—Assists post-9/11 veterans’ transition into careers in the building trades.
- Clear Path for Veterans: $200,000—Serves as a key source for veterans in upstate New York to access resources and programs including professional skills and training development, peer and wingman services and K-9 therapy programs.
- NYS Defenders Association Veterans Defense Program: $500,000—Provides training, legal assistance and support to provide representation of veterans and service members involved in the criminal or family court systems.
- SAGE Veterans Project: $100,000—SAGE advocates and offers services that help lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender older adults who are veterans of military service improve their access to the VA and other veteran services, as well as support their overall health and wellness.
- Legal Services of the Hudson Valley Veterans and Military Families Advocacy Project: $200,000—Provide assistance with applying for veterans benefits and representation before the Board of Veterans Appeals and in federal court, at no cost to veterans, when benefits are denied.
“The governor’s budget includes $178 billion in spending. In recent years, he’s fought to use your tax dollars to give illegal immigrants free healthcare, free college tuition and driver’s licenses," said Assemblyman Brian M. Kolb (Canandaigua). "He wants taxpayer-funded political campaigns. He continually finds public contracts for his biggest political donors. At the same time, his budget would cut funding for veterans’ services by millions and millions of dollars. It’s unconscionable, and he should be ashamed. I’m proud to join my colleagues in fighting to restore this funding. Our veterans represent the very best of us, and the very best is exactly what they deserve from their government when they come home.”
Assemblyman Mark Johns (Webster) said “Veterans have sacrificed everything – their lives, time with their families and friends, their personal and professional goals – in order to protect our freedoms. It is vital that we do everything we can to show our appreciation, and ensuring the future of programs like the Joseph P. Dwyer Veterans Peer Counseling Program is a great place to start. This program works. It is a proven life saver and its funding must be restored in this year’s budget."
“Why does the Governor always have to mess with the funding that our veterans hold dear?” asked Assemblyman Peter Lawrence (Greece). “Every year he finds it necessary to play political ping-pong with funding that is crucial to our veteran’s services. Services like the Dwyer Program should never be in jeopardy of being cut from the budget, and it seems like year in and year out the governor uses this funding as a political pawn during budget negotiations. I remain adamant about seeing it restored, and believe with continued pressure it will be included in the final budget.”
“Unfortunately, Gov. Cuomo’s planned cut to veterans’ services is not the first of its kind,” said Marjorie Byrnes (Caledonia). “For the past four years, the Dwyer Program, a peer-to-peer counseling service, has been nixed from his Executive Budget. The very people who fight for our freedom should never have to worry about losing services dear to them. As budget negotiations continue in the coming months, know that I will fight to see this funding restored and available for all counties.”
“It is an absolute travesty that the governor has, yet again, for the fourth year in a row, proposed a cut to funding for programs relating to veterans’ mental health,” said Assemblyman Brian Manktelow (Lyons). “I applaud Assemblyman Jake Ashby and Assemblyman Steve Hawley for taking charge with the 'Voices for Veterans' events to call for Gov. Cuomo to restore services immediately. I fully support this motion and hope to see the governor not only restore this back to the budget immediately but to increase the funding as well so all of our veterans are well taken care of.”
The Conference is also pushing to codify the expansion of the MERIT scholarship program for Gold Star Families by enacting it into law. After public outrage about the scholarship being threatened last year, the program was temporarily saved due to an executive order. Members of the Assembly Minority Conference are pushing for the scholarship to be properly passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor.