By Michael Weiner and Paul Atkinson

In recent years, the governor and Legislature have taken steps to address New York State’s budget crisis, and in doing so have advanced us down the path toward a vibrant future. This year’s budget process presents not only the challenge to meet continuing substantial need with limited resources, but also the opportunity to invest in services that will yield significant returns.

We appreciate that this year’s executive budget includes a number of progressive initiatives, including funding for full-day pre-K, implementing the Affordable Care Act and increasing the minimum wage, while holding the line on taxes and promoting jobs through economic development efforts. At the same time, proposed flat or reduced funding for a number of important health and human service programs will lead to even greater challenges.

Many of the key prevention and health and wellness programs slated for funding cuts or restructuring are aimed at addressing the needs of high-risk, low-income families. Over the past several years, state funding for these programs has gradually eroded. While funding cuts may appear small on an annual basis, over time these reductions have had a devastating impact on the health and human service organizations that deliver these services.

Community-based prevention and early intervention services can significantly improve quality of life for children, youth, families and communities while reducing costs in the long term. These services include home visiting programs that assist at-risk families, after-school programming and youth development and delinquency prevention. To forgo adequate investment in these is to risk far greater future expenditures.

Restructuring and overall funding reductions for health and nutrition programs, including the Prenatal Care Assistance Program, Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program, and Women, Infants and Children also jeopardize the well-being of financially fragile families. Prenatal care is proven to improve birth outcomes, and adequate nutrition is vitally important for all people regardless of income level. Reducing overall funding for these programs will lead to increased spending as poor maternal and child health outcomes, poor nutrition and obesity take their toll.

Frederick Douglass said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Reducing funding for prevention, health and nutrition programs erodes our most vulnerable citizens’ ability to ensure the health and strength of themselves and their children – and also ensures that all of us will pay a far higher financial and human cost in the future. We urge the governor and Legislature to take steps to build strong children and families across New York.

Michael Weiner is president and CEO of the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County. Paul Atkinson is president of the Agency Executives Association.