When Hillary Rutter heard the news of Governor David Paterson's major budget cuts, she wondered if the Adelphi NY Statewide Breast Cancer Hotline & Support Program (997-8545) could still survive. The program, helping women, and men, with breast cancer and their families through free services for nearly 30 years, is supported by major fundraising efforts but relies on a yearly $300,000 state grant to stay afloat.
"At first I was in shock and then I just got angry, as did hundreds of people we have notified," Rutter, the program's director, said of the news. "Even in tough economic times, women are being diagnosed every day. Is the governor saying that women with breast cancer are not important enough? That they are not entitled to essential services in their time of crisis?"
The grant, which the program has relied on for 20+ years, has been completely eliminated from the governor's budget. This money, Rutter said, serves as the program base.
"I am afraid that without it we may have to close our doors, thereby denying thousands of women with breast cancer our essential services..." Rutter said. "We work very hard to raise funds to support and expand all of our services but our state money is the base of our program and without it we will not be able to survive."
The governor officially announced the cuts Dec. 16, when he delivered his executive budget a month earlier than the constitutional deadline. Paterson said this budget would eliminate the largest budget deficit in New York State's history.
Paterson, on his website, said the executive budget addresses the challenge of closing a mid-year shortfall; the first component is a 2008-2009 deficit reduction plan, a series of actions he believes are necessary to close New York's current-year $1.7 billion shortfall. The state financial plan assumes enactment of these actions by Feb. 1.
The second component, according to the governor's website, is the complete 2009-10 executive budget proposal, which will close the 2009-10 fiscal year $13.7 billion deficit. Consistent with Governor Paterson's goal to start reducing state spending as soon as possible, the savings actions included in that proposal assumes the budget will be enacted by March 1, one month prior to the April 1 start of the fiscal year.
"With the financial services industry in the midst of an unprecedented crisis, we must fundamentally reevaluate what our state can afford to spend," Governor Paterson stated on his website. "Change is unavoidable and the proposals I have put forward today begin the difficult process of adapting to a new fiscal reality. Just like thousands of families across New York, our state government needs to tighten its belt and limit spending to what we can afford."
The Adelphi NY Statewide Breast Cancer Hotline & Support Program has been providing services to New Yorkers for 28 years. In the past five years, it has provided hotline services to approximately 15,000 New Yorkers; approximately 81 percent are from the metropolitan New York area and approximately 19 percent are from upstate New York. With more than 1.5 million hits to its website over the last 5 years, the program has, within that same time period, counseled over 6,000 people and educated over 200,000 people, including over 50,000 underserved women of color.
The program has also facilitated more than 1,500 screening referrals to Women's Partnership programs and has reached out to Nassau University Medical Center, providing social work services in the medical center's breast clinic to approximately 1,000 diagnosed women.
Senator Craig Johnson is hoping to restore funding to worthwhile programs such as this. "As someone who has lost both their mother and grandmother to breast cancer, I am very sensitive to the incredibly important service performed by this program," Senator Johnson said. "While these are incredibly trying economic times for this state, this is a very fluid budget process. It is my hope that with impending federal stimulus funds, common sense reforms that make New York's bloated government more streamlined and less costly, along with other measures, we will be able to restore funding to worthwhile programs such as this."
Senator Kemp Hannon agrees. "I am opposed to the proposal to eliminate the funding to the Breast Cancer Hotline. Budget belt-tightening, severe as it must be, should not mean ending an outstanding program, especially when much of the priceless counseling and advice is done by volunteers. Their crucial advice comes at one of the most vulnerable times when a woman has or may have breast cancer. These cuts, as Governor Paterson proposes to the Breast Cancer Statewide Hotline, should not be allowed."
Rutter is urging people to call or write Governor Paterson and/or their state senators and assembly members to tell them that women, including women with breast cancer, are a priority. "We help all women, young, old, poor, rich, insured, uninsured, and we help them get screened and if they are diagnosed we help them get the medical care that they need," Rutter continued. "We are an important resource for women who might not follow through with screening or medical care if not for our interventions. If you are looking at things strictly from a financial view, that in itself saves the state a lot of money and prevents women from coming into emergency rooms much sicker and harder to treat down the road."
If the budget does pass, the cut goes into effect April 1, 2009.
¥ Sisters United in Health/Hermanas Unidas en la Salud (Coordinating agency) 16 organizations
¥ National Breast Cancer Coalition - On the Board of Directors
¥ New York State Breast Cancer Coalition
¥ Long Island Breast Cancer Coalition
¥ North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System
¥ New York State Breast Cancer Consortium
¥ Long Island Women's Agenda
¥ Long Island 2Day Breast Cancer Walk
Provided consultation services to the following organizations:
Manhasset Women's Coalition Against Breast Cancer, Manhasset
Stony Brook University Hospital, Stony Brook
Islip Breast Cancer Coalition, Islip
Dr. David Kaufman, Bethpage
Rockland County Partners in Health, Rockland
Lutheran Hospital Family Health Center, Brooklyn Church, Booneville
Support Connections, Yorktown Heights
Batavia Radiation Oncology, Batavia
Capital Region Against Breast Cancer, Albany
Huntington Hospital, Huntington
Park Health Center, South Ozone Park