02/08/2018 04:59 PM EST
ALBANY — Several members of the state Assembly are calling for an increase in state aid for adult literacy programs to make up for changes in federal legislation that would otherwise leave approximately 17,000 adult learners statewide without access.
"In most of our communities there are people who can't even put their resumes together to apply for the most basic jobs that are out there because of their lack of literacy skills," Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Queens) told POLITICO. "It's the neediest people who are getting left behind."
Kim and Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy (D-Albany) sent a letter this week to members of the lower house calling for their support in getting $15.3 million for the Adult Literacy Education program in the Assembly's one-house budget proposal, and ultimately the final 2018-19 state budget. Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou (D-Manhattan) also sent out a letter, and plans to join efforts with Fahy and Kim. Members will have the opportunity to sign the letter, which will then be sent to Speaker Carl Heastie next week.
The current state budget includes $7.3 million for the Adult Literacy Education program, which serves approximately 5,700 participants statewide, said Michael Hunter, adult literacy program director for the University Settlement Society of New York, a nonprofit providing services for immigrant and low-income families.
Statewide, more than 3.5 million individuals do not have a high school diploma, English-language proficiency or both, Hunter said. The ALE program provides funding to help increase literacy skills, particularly for immigrants and native-born New Yorkers with interrupted education.
This is particularly important as the state looks to increase support for the growing English-language learner population in the K-12 system, as many adult learners are the parents of those students, Niou said. The program helps increase language skills, allowing parents to become more involved in their children's education, she said.
"It targets the parents and out-of-school youth, and it helps them to become literate, obtain a lot of skills that are necessary for employment and [gain] economic self-sufficiency," she said, adding that many programs have a financial literacy component.
Approximately 15,000 individuals are on waiting lists for adult literacy programs in New York City, Niou said.
Changes to the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, reauthorized in 2014 and set to take effect this year, will create an estimated $8 million gap in current federal funding for adult learners in the state, leaving as many as 17,000 unable to benefit from their current educational program. The changes include requiring participants to have a Social Security number so their job outcomes can be tracked, Hunter said. The changes incentivize services for adult learners closest to achieving a near-term workforce outcome, according to the Fahy-Kim letter.
The Assembly members are looking to restore a $1 million cut in Gov. Andrew Cuomo's executive budget proposal to maintain the current $7.3 million funding level, as well as an additional $8 million to offset the federal programming changes — for a total of $15.3 million.
The expansion would provide for approximately 16,000 seats, Hunter said.
Without the funding increase, "there's more people who are going to be left behind, and again, it's the neediest people," Kim said.