County executive, EC Social Services Commissioner Dirschberger, Committee Chair Pointer advocate for investments in youth
Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz was joined on Tuesday by Commissioner of Social Services Al Dirschberger and Chair of the Erie County Poverty Committee the Rev. Kinzer Pointer to outline two initiatives to be funded by the 2017 Erie County budget and designed to reduce poverty in the community with targeted investments in youth.
The first is an expansion of the "Help Me Grow" initiative, which helps screen children under the age of 5 for developmental delays, while the second will help to provide enhanced skill training through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families summer youth employment program. These investments will be funded through a $500,000 allocation in the budget that was sought by Poloncarz following consultations with the Poverty Committee and the Erie County Department of Social Services.
"While Erie County's economy is doing well and unemployment is down, poverty's pervasive presence still hinders some individuals from achieving their true potential, especially our greatest asset: our children. As part of my 'Initiatives for a Stronger Community' plan, I called for the creation of the Poverty Committee in 2015 to examine the root causes of poverty in Erie County, wherever it occurs, and to recommend ways in which we might expand our efforts to reduce poverty," Poloncarz said. "I am pleased to announce that, using the funding I included and that was approved by the legislature in the 2017 budget, we will be making significant investments in our youth.
"First, to better help them as young children, we will be investing in a program to detect developmental issues with children before they enter kindergarten. Second, to help them learn employment skills as young adults, we will further invest in programs that provide teenagers with work-related skills so they are prepared to join our future workforce.
"While there are many worthy programs and organizations being funded by the county, there is no more important a task we can undertake than giving our young people the opportunities they need to succeed and climb out of poverty."
The "Help Me Grow" initiative ensures the child receives the assistances needed before entering school. Waiting until the child enters the educational system before receiving services significantly diminishes the likelihood of being successful throughout life.
Plans for this initiative propose an expansion into Erie County's Child Care Subsidy program, which functions as the largest funder of early childhood programs in the community. EC said high-quality early childhood care is essential to children's development. These funds will go toward expanding training of child care providers to recognize developmental delays, along with providing linkages to necessary supports to help the child overcome these challenges.
Dirschberger added, "Early childhood development is crucial to success later in life, and it is critical that children be assessed for developmental delays at an early age. By doing so, we identify any potential problems at an earlier age and are better positioned to get children and caregivers the supports they need for success."
ECDSS is also the recipient of $1.3 million annually in funds for the TANF summer youth employment program, which funds work programs for low-income and at-risk youth. Available funding will be used to develop programming targeted to participants that would assist them in building additional skills for success.
Poloncarz said, "With these wise investments, we are telling our young people that we care about their development and that we will do all we can to ensure a level playing field in the classroom at an early age, while also helping them build the skills they need to be fruitful contributors to our community.
"Children are our future, and today we are acting to make that future brighter for all of us. We will be advancing these initiatives in early 2017 and I thank the legislature for supporting my administration's efforts to invest in our children."