March 10, 2011

Cornell’s 4-H Program Faces State Budget Cuts

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As part of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Feb. 2 budget proposal, the Cornell Cooperative Extension’s branch of the youth group 4-H — which provides educational programs and extracurricular activities for students in elementary, middle and high school in counties throughout the state — faces steep reductions in funding, according to members of the program.

Although the program, which receives resources from both state and federal governments, will be operational next year, its members said the cuts would prevent 4-H from continuing some of its programs. However, members said the specific effects of the cuts on the program are unknown.

Each county of New York State has its own 4-H group, run by Cornell and, if passed, the proposed cuts would reduce total funding for New York 4-H groups by $1.6 million for 2011, according to Jo Swanson, a member of the state 4-H leadership team.

Swanson called the reduction a “significant cut” that would reduce 4-H’s ability to conduct programming.

4-H is part of the United States Department of Agriculture and is run in each state by cooperative extensions of land grant universities, such as Cornell, and local governments. During the 2009-2010 school year, more than 112,000 youth participated in the 4-H’s after school programs in New York, according to a CCE pamphlet.

Nationally, more than six million youths participate in 4-H’s numerous youth programs, including camps and after-school activities, according to the program’s website.

“The 4-H movement supports young people from elementary programs designed to shape future leaders and innovators,” the program’s website states. The organization emphasizes hands-on science experience, learning about health and giving back to communities, according to its website.

In addition to state cuts, New York 4-H groups face cuts by counties. The funding cuts from counties may be twice as large as funding cuts from the state, since New York State matches county funds, according to Swanson.

The federal government may cut funding for 4-H as well, she added.

“Right now, Congress is deliberating on the USDA budget. Cuts, rather than increases, are on the table. Cornell Cooperative Extension receives funding through a number of items in the USDA budget, including what is called the ‘Smith Lever’ allocation,” Swanson said. “The House has proposed a $30 million dollar cut to the national extension system. This would translate to a cut of $800,000 in Smith Lever to Extension Administration in N.Y.”

At a state level, 4-H has also had to lay off employees because of the tightening budget. “We not only have less money, we have fewer people,” Swanson said.

County 4-H organizations are preparing for the passage of the state’s budget, but have no definite plans yet because of the tentative nature of the proposal, according to Megan Tifft, a team coordinator for Tompkins County’s 4-H program.

“It’s a very uncertain time for us because we just don’t know what’s going to happen,” Tifft said. “The trickle down effect would hurt our program.”

In Cuomo’s budget, funding for the 4-H youth development program is included under “county cooperative extension associations.” Cuomo’s budget would allocate $3.9 million to the associations combined.

To make up for funding shortfalls, Tifft said 4-H will have to resort to increased fundraising and applying for grants from private companies.

“We know how important these programs are to the kids and the families we work with,” she said.

Original Author: Joseph Niczky