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Cooperative extension takes steep cut; Single-payer proposal supported

Cornell Cooperative Extension in Liberty, NY has cut staff hours in response to a budget cut.

By Fritz Mayer
April 3, 2013

The lean times continue in Sullivan County as the legislature voted on March 21 to cut the amount of money it gives to the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Sullivan County (CCE) by 20% or roughly $83,000. Before the vote, members of the CCE board addressed county legislators in an attempt to persuade them not to approve the cut.

As part of his remarks, board member Glenn Pontier pointed to the organization’s 100-year history. He said, “When Cornell started out, farms were centers of poverty. So Cornell went to them and said, ‘here are some scientifically based ways to farm, you rotate crops, here’s the kinds of seeds you need.’ And then they took home economics to the women and said ‘here’s how you budget.’ And they started a program for kids and that was 4-H. And today young, new farmers are starting out and Cornell is ready to work with them.”

Famer and board member Earl Myers said the surrounding counties funded their extensions at last year’s levels. He added that Sullivan County was the only county in the region that is gaining farms, mostly in the niche and organic markets, and young farmers starting out needed help from CCE.

The new executive director of CCE, Greg Sandor, said, “I’ve heard from a few people, ‘this cut will make you lean and mean. This will be good for Cornell, it will be a haircut.’ It’s not a haircut; it’s really taking us out at the knees.” He said if the cut went through, the entire staff would be switched from a five-day to a four-day week.

But given the financial condition of county finances, the board voted to move ahead with the cut as it did with most of the contracting agencies in the county. (See the contracts chart.)

Support for single-payer health plan

At the same meeting, the legislators were asked to show their support for a single-payer health care plan for New York. On March 7, assemblyman Richard Gottfried introduced legislation that would create a single-payer program, which is typically described as “Medicare for all.” In such a system, the role of health insurance companies is eliminated and the state pays for all health coverage through an insurance pool funded by taxpayers.

Priscilla Basset, co-chair of the Sullivan County Senior Legislative Action Committee, told lawmakers that such a system could be created under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, which became law in March 2010, because the act allows states to adopt their own healthcare systems if they are at least as comprehensive as the federal plan.


Cooperative extension puts out a call for donations

In response to the cut in funding from Sullivan County, Cornell Cooperative Extension issued a press release, which read in part: “We need immediate help from families, farmers, homemakers, and everyone touched by Cooperative Extension if we want to keep providing services at the same level,” said CCE Board President Joan Howard. “We’re talking about our core, traditional areas of 4-H, agriculture, and family and consumer science. We know times are tough for everyone, but please consider making a special donation at this time.”

A weekly furlough of employees will begin mid-April, announced CCE Executive Director Greg Sandor, as a result of the over $83,000 reduction to the county’s contract for programs approved last week.

“I am not prepared to cut any one program right now. Instead, I am planning on reducing staff hours across the board, including my position, and then we will spend the next month looking closely at each program and will begin cutting programs after this 30-day period,” said Sandor. “More importantly, by only cutting staff one day per week, they will be able to keep their current positions and retain the excellent benefit package that Cornell University provides to all our local county CCE employees.”

This furlough policy will require staff to take one day a week without pay, and affects all employees. All CCE programs and activities at the Gerald J. Skoda Extension Education Center in Liberty will be suspended one day each week beginning in mid-April, until further notice.

“If 1,000 people donate $100 each, it will keep staff on full-time and our doors open five days a week for the rest of the year, giving us time to seek additional resources,” said Sandor.