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The halls of the New York State Capitol Building in Albany were lined with red Jan. 22 as nearly 50 executive directors from Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) county associations from across the state met with senators and Assembly members from their respective districts.

The visits corresponded with interactive displays in the lobby of the Capitol, highlighting extension programs and initiatives such as Taste NY, NYS 4-H and the Cornell Maple Program.

In addition to sharing examples of its impact in each lawmaker’s district, CCE representatives spent the day advocating for an increase in the state funding it receives through NYS County Law 224. The law currently provides about $4 million in funding to CCE associations – an amount that has not changed since 1994.

CCE is asking lawmakers to double that contribution.

“The ability of our educators and community partners to respond to emerging issues such as the opioid crisis and invasive species is hampered by an existing funding structure that is heavily dependent on grants and contracts,” said CCE Director Chris Watkins. “An increase in [Law] 224 funding would allow us to respond more quickly and with greater agility. The fact that 224 funding has not increased in 25 years puts our system at a great disadvantage.”

Watkins said this year’s visits were especially impactful because of the large number of new senators and Assembly members who took office after the 2018 election. “We found those new folks were especially excited about the work that extension does and how it impacts their districts,” he said.

Tuesday’s visits also represented an opportunity to reconnect, strengthen existing relationships and discuss priorities for 2019. CCE Broome County Executive Director Victoria Giarratano spent part of the afternoon on the Assembly floor as a guest of Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo, D-123rd Dist.

“I have spent quite a bit of time collaborating with Assemblywoman Lupardo and am in constant appreciation of her investment in agriculture across the Southern Tier,” said Giarratano. “There’s no doubt her partnerships with CCE have led to a stronger ag economy in our county. And now that she’s the chair of the Assembly Agriculture Committee, I’m confident that her intense commitment to strengthening agriculture and its related economies will serve all of New York state.”

The relationship between CCE and its communities is not lost on Lupardo.

“Cornell Cooperative Extension is one of the more important organizations in our community,” she said. “I can’t say enough about what they have done for decades working with our farmers … and all of our community partners. 

“They’re able to bring first-class research and the expertise to really help our communities, not just farmers,” Lupardo added. “They help everyone grow in a very healthy way, and we would be lost without them.”

This article also appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.

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