In 2006, I traveled to New York's Southern Tier to bear witness to the damage caused by the overflowing Susquehanna River. I visited with members whose homes were being condemned, and I met local leaders, SRPs and teachers who were volunteering to help their communities even while their own homes were severely damaged.
In the past few weeks, several NYSUT officers have once again witnessed extreme devastation to communities scattered throughout our great state — damage that far exceeds, both in breadth of area and degree of devastation, any flooding damage experienced in these regions in a century. Not only the Susquehanna, but the Mohawk and Hudson rivers and hundreds of tributaries have surpassed heights never before reached.
Thousands of NYSUT members live in these communities and have suffered great losses. Many are without utilities and have had to discard ruined appliances and furniture. Still others are without homes that were washed away or condemned. The need is great and the traditional agencies, such as the Red Cross, Salvation Army and the United Way of New York State, have answered the call. As a member of the UWNYS Board of Directors, I'm very proud of the confidence Gov. Cuomo has placed in United Way to spearhead New York's Labor for Your Neighbor assistance program, and especially proud of the 2-1-1 phone service staffed by United Way that has handled thousands of calls directing those in need to the most efficient and productive services.
But I'm most proud of you. Many locals and individual members have answered the call with financial support through NYSUT's Disaster Relief Fund and by donating supplies and necessities. NYSUT staff and members — in service and retired — have volunteered to shovel away tons of mud, rip down water-soaked sheetrock and cart away destroyed furniture, appliances and clothing. Your generosity is endless.
Yet, still more is needed. I urge you to make a contribution today to the NYSUT Disaster Relief Fund — where every dollar goes directly to members in need.
Impacted communities place a high priority on getting their schools up and running as soon as possible, including schools severely damaged by the storms, cut off by washed-away roads or now serving as shelters for residents who've lost everything. They are communities that represent the backbone of our state's middle class and working families. They understand that a quality, public education is critical to opening the American dream to their children and their neighbor's children.
While many of these communities and their schools have suffered from drastic state school aid cuts — $1.3 billion last year and $3.2 billion over three years — and face the even greater negative impact of a property tax cap, they are also the core of the citizenry that stands to benefit most from President Obama's American Jobs Act. These are the same communities that have been able to withstand the worst of state cuts and a weak economy because of ARRA, the federal stimulus, and the Education Jobs Act. When the mud is gone, the educators in these communities will go back to their schools and classrooms and diligently work to provide a quality education for every child, and at the very same time, work tirelessly to advocate for the resources to make that possible.
Last month, we acknowledged the pain, resilience and hope created 10 years ago by 9/11. Today, we again look to a tragedy and see the best in human nature and look to the promise that brings.
Thank you for all you do to make this possible.