Editor’s Note: This is the second in a four-part series on Chautauqua County Executive candidates Ron Johnson and Vince Horrigan.
According to the 2010 census, Jamestown and Dunkirk are seeing an influx of non-English speaking residents.
Democratic county executive candidate Ron Johnson and Republican candidate Vince Horrigan recently debated the best ways to respond to the growing demographic. Johnson argued getting the Hispanic community involved in providing services would be the best solution. On the other hand, Horrigan said it is not necessarily the role of government to become involved, but up to nonprofits, religious groups and other organizations.
“When you look at the challenges we face with this community, and the growing number of (Spanish-speaking individuals), I will go back to this: This is not singly the role of government,” Horrigan said. “What we have to do is be sure that our faith-based community, our United Way, nonprofit communities, and Chautauqua Opportunities need to – and they are – address this. The concept of dealing with non-English speaking, we’ve been dealing with that for years. All of our Red Cross disaster stuff is translated. One of the other things I’m concerned about is the infant mortality rate. Now, here’s a role for government.”
Horrigan said the infant mortality rate in the Spanish community in Chautauqua County is 12 percent, whereas the average is 8 percent.
“For some reason, young moms in the Hispanic community are losing their babies at a higher rate than everyone else,” he said. “Now why is that? Our Public Health Department is engaged in going into homes under this maternal health grant to be able to figure out what’s going on and how we can fix it. Is some of the translation, when a mom goes into the hospital and needs a translator some phone translation? To me, the quality of health care has got to intervene there, and they’ve got to have somebody in that hospital there that can team right up with that mom and say, ‘We’re going to go into the doctor together.’ It’s not a role for government. But, we have to figure out what’s going on.”
Before Joint Neighborhood Project closed its doors, Horrigan said he was very familiar with the program, which he called unsustainable due to the fact many people were unable to document its effectiveness. However, now that JNP is closed, he said other community organizations have stepped up to fill the roles previously being filled by the program.
Horrigan said the food pantry has been replaced by the Salvation Army, as well as a higher number of people going to St. Susan’s. Additionally, he said the navigator program that had been offered by JNP had not been effective, as it had turned into a one-on-one program. The English as a Second Language Program is offered through Chautauqua Works in both Jamestown and Dunkirk monthly.
“I’m not so sure that it’s English versus non-English,” Horrigan said. “Certainly, we have to address that as a community. To me, the bigger challenge is, this group of minority population is having a difficult time both assimilating and getting out into the community, and we’re having a hard time getting them into our community, whether it’s on boards or wherever we are.”
He cited the Common Council in Dunkirk as being fortunate to have two Spanish-speaking individuals.
“I think there are opportunities,” Horrigan said. “I think our biggest challenge is reaching in and figuring out how we can find out more of how we can make this population more a part of the community so that they can be in a productive, non-public assistance mode.”
According to Johnson, the non-English speaking population in the county has been stable at 1.4 percent.
“What’s not stable is the students needing services that are non-English speaking in Dunkirk and Jamestown, which are the big ones,” Johnson said. “It is becoming a school issue, because they need more (resources) to provide these kind of services. We’ve got the JNP program in Jamestown that recently closed. They provided services to the Hispanic population, providing translators and food bank and navigators. That’s closed up because of funding problems that they had, and some problems with how they administered their funds, so those things have kind of dried up. Now the YWCA is taking up some of that slack, and they’re trying to do some new programs.”
Johnson said he has spoken to several people to see how the county could become more involved, and learned that getting the Hispanic community involved would help with a solution.
“We need to get (the Hispanic community) involved in providing the services, because there is a culture, I think, that’s prevailing in the Hispanic community that we’re going to take care of them,” Johnson said. “It’s caused some problems in providing services. What we need to do is get more of those people involved and engaged in providing some of these services for their own folks. When I say their own folks, most of the non-English speaking people in Chautauqua County are American citizens. They’re from Puerto Rico, and they’re American citizens. They’re not immigrants that we’re talking about, they’re American citizens. That seems to be the biggest problem.”
Recruiting Spanish-speaking workers in the Department of Social Services and other areas is part of the solution, Johnson said. Additionally, he acknowledged several agencies have stepped up to fill the roles left open by JNP’s closing.
“I think that we need to do more work on that, but the county needs to be a facilitator in finding people within that community – those people that need those services – to help with finding solutions,” he said. “I think that’s where the county should center its attention.”