Dear Editor:

I am proud of the fact that three school-based youth services programs have supported children in the 20th Legislative District – two at Elizabeth High School and one at Abraham Clark High School in Roselle.

These School-Based Youth Services Programs (SBYSP) have provided crucial services to children with complex emotional, behavioral and mental health needs, developmental disabilities, substance abuse and involvement with the Juvenile Justice System. No doubt, this program has saved lives for middle and high school students.

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That is why I am concerned the governor’s proposed budget has defunded the initiative across the state – affecting an estimated 91 school-based programs – in a blind effort to claim $14 million for other parts of the state budget.

To me, this is an incredibly short-sighted, reckless and dangerous way in which to plug budget gaps. The money needs to be restored to the budget. That is why I am joining with Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D- Essex, Morris) and a bi-partisan group of concerned legislators to introduce a resolution in the Assembly, demanding the resources be refunded.

This program, which has serviced under-served communities with large proportions of Black and Latino families for more than 30 years, is a mere 4.5% of the $300 million in proposed cuts to the state Department of Children and Families. The program is also supplemented with federal money, so New Jersey only pays a fraction of the total cost.

Over the years, I have heard so many stories of how this program in Elizabeth and Roselle prevented teen suicide, how it helped eliminate bullying and how it created a safe place. This is a unique program that creates a sense of belonging and connection that I wish was offered when I was a freshman at Abraham Clark.

This program not only helps at-risk children, but it helps them achieve their full potential.  Staff is on-hand for homework help, for tutoring and to provide guidance for students who have dreams of attending the finest colleges and universities.  It is the type of program that creates connections and structure for these children, especially during these uncertain times of economic despair for many.

The emotional well being of our students has never been more fragile, and these programs protect them.

I ask that the governor and state Legislature recognize the importance of this safety net not only in District 20, but throughout the state.  There is no doubt that a $14 million investment now will save many millions more down the road, as neglected children become adults.

Our governor needs to restore the money in the budget.