Reverse funding cuts for libraries

As a regular patron of the Cattaraugus Free Library, I stand in opposition to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s continued and sustained attacks on New York’s public libraries – and therefore, his attacks on all New Yorkers. While Cuomo describes his recently unveiled spending proposals as pro-education and pro-middle class, his cuts to Library Aid directly contradict that claim.

Libraries are a core component of New York’s education infrastructure. They provide a safe and welcoming space for all New Yorkers, regardless of race or ethnicity, religion, country of origin, income, or education level.

Libraries offer free access to educational materials that historically disadvantaged communities would not otherwise have access to. Libraries are the primary source of Internet access to the 25 percent of New York households whose annual household income is less than $50,000, thereby allowing those individuals to search and apply for jobs and perform other basic tasks that are increasingly only available online. And libraries are the heart of their communities, providing early literacy programs; classes in adult education and financial literacy; health and fitness workshops; technology assistance; English and other language classes; and many other programs and services too numerous to list here.

While state Education Law requires Library Aid for fiscal year 2017-18 to be $102.6 milllion, and despite his assertion that education funding will increase at least 4 percent, Cuomo’s executive budget cuts state library aid 4 percent. This is in addition to the more than $110M in statutory State Library Aid that has been withheld since 2007-08.

This is the 10th consecutive year proposed state Library Aid is less than what is mandated in education law. This decade of underfunding has withheld more than $110 million in state library aid, decimating library services and ignoring the needs of New Yorkers who rely on the critical services libraries provide. It is the economically disadvantaged communities who are consistently the hardest hit by shifting political tides. Shame on the governor for playing politics with people’s lives.

Gov. Cuomo’s cut to State Library Aid must be reversed, library funding must be increased relative to any increase in education funding, and the decade of recession-era funding reductions must be retired. Join me in using the online advocacy system offered by the New York Library Association to write to the Governor and the Legislature: nyla.org/advocacy.

Erin Wagatha-Heitzenrater is a Cattaraugus resident.

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