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Auburn elementary students rewarded with bowling, pizza for good behavior

AUBURN — Instead of spending time indoors during their winter break on Friday, selected Auburn elementary school students got to go bowling and eat pizza.

The festivities were a part of Student Appreciation Day, where students who act as good role models for other others were chosen to spend time at the Falcon Lanes bowling alley in Auburn. Students from the fourth grade to the sixth grade from all of the Auburn elementary schools were at the event. Among those handing out pizza to students were Auburn Police Department Chief Shawn Butler and police officer Sean DeRosa, a student resource officer for the Auburn school district.

Sgt. Greg Dann, who runs the district's school resource officer program, said the annual event is meant to recognize students who are well behaved, are good models for others and have good grades. The resource officers are meant to be models for students and a part of their job is interacting with children with behavioral issues, so the event lets officers spend time with students they don't see as often, Dann said.

Dann said the event started in 2009, with middle school and high school students invited, as well, but the event eventually stopped for the high school and middle school students due to lack of attendance.

"We tried to come up with a way to reward the kids who are doing all the right things," Dann said.   

Relatives Kristen Bartolotta and Kathy Bartolotta accompanied their respective daughters, Adelyn and Angie, to the event.

"It gives them something to do during the break, gets them out of the house and gives them something fun. I know (Angie) was looking forward to it," Kathy Bartolotta said. 

Bill targets G.I. benefits

A bill introduced by U.S. Rep. John Katko and a Democratic colleague would enable more military service members to transfer Post-9/11 G.I. Bill education benefits to their spouses or children.

Under the current program, military personnel with at least six years of service can transfer education benefits to immediate family if they commit to serving four more years. Service members may also transfer assistance if they have logged at least 10 years and commit to serving the maximum amount of time allowed.

The legislation sponsored by Katko, R-Camillus, and U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly, a Virginia Democrat, would allow active duty or retired military service members who have at least 20 years of active duty service, including at least 90 days of service after 9/11, to transfer education benefits to their spouses and children.

Incentives for additional military service would remain in place, but the goal is to expand the ability of military service members to transfer unused education assistance.

"Our veterans have made countless sacrifices to protect, defend and serve this great nation," Katko said in a statement. "They answered a call of duty that only the bravest men and women are willing to answer, and we need to do everything we can to help them and their families."

The Post-9/11 G.I. Bill provides tuition benefits to individuals with at least 90 days of active duty service after Sept. 10, 2001. The program is also available for honorably discharged veterans or veterans who were discharged with a service-connected disability after 30 days.

The program can be used to pay for college or a job training program, such an entrepreneurship training or vocational training.

Through the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, eligible personnel may receive up to 36 months of education benefits, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The Post 9/11 G.I. Bill was established to help veterans, primarily those who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq, establish careers after completing their military service.

The program does provide opportunities for service members to transfer education benefits, but there are limitations under the current program. The bill supported by Connolly and Katko would expand who is eligible for transfer the aid.

Connolly called his proposal a "clear win-win."

"We have another tool for retaining talent and ensuring a strong military, and it allows us to uphold our promise to veterans who have served so honorably," he said.

The bill was introduced Dec. 18. It has been referred to the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs for review.

Effort targets hunger at college

If Gov. Andrew Cuomo gets his way, New York will become the first state to require public colleges and universities to have on-campus food pantries for students.

The proposal is part of Cuomo's five-point plan to address student hunger. While governor's initiative focuses mainly on young children, the mandate for campuses to have food pantries is included in his 2018 State of the State agenda.

Hunger on Campus, a report released in 2016, found nearly half of college students surveyed lacked access to food during the previous 30-day period. Food security impacted students at community colleges and four-year institutions.

Cuomo aims to address hunger among college students by requiring State University of New York and City University of New York campuses to have physical food pantries or facilitate the delivery of food from an outside food bank.

The state would support the SUNY and CUNY food pantries with a $1 million investment, according to Cuomo's plan released Thursday.

There are already several SUNY institutions that have on-campus food pantries for students. The Bear Necessities Food Pantry on the Binghamton University campus is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday for students with proper identification.

On the university's website, there is an explanation for why the school has a food pantry.

"Many students come to campus with limited resources and little experience managing their needs," the description reads. "Hunger makes it difficult to study, sleep or engage in academics and social activities at the same level as peers. If students' physiological needs aren't being met, it ultimately decreases the chances of meeting their full potential and their overall experience at Binghamton University."

Other SUNY schools have food pantries either on campus or access to offsite locations. University at Albany students are given access to an off-campus food pantry. SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry students may use their IDs to pick up food at the Hendricks Chapel food pantry on the Syracuse University campus.

Stony Brook University, one of the largest state colleges in New York, has a food pantry that is operated by several student organizations. The pantry is a member of the College and University Food Bank Alliance.

Some New York community colleges also have on-campus food pantries. Cayuga Community College announced last fall that a food pantry for students opened at its Auburn campus. A pantry is planned for the college's Fulton campus in Oswego County.

"Any student in need is welcome," said Jeff Rosenthal, CCC's vice president of student affairs.

There is a growing number of SUNY schools with food pantries for students, but not all campuses have one. A review of college websites, news articles and other online resources found that roughly half of SUNY institutions have student food pantries. This includes schools with access to offsite food banks or mobile food banks that visit campuses.

Cuomo's plan would change that by requiring schools to provide access to a food pantry. He hopes the state Legislature will support his proposal and the broader five-point plan to address student hunger in New York.

"This program is essential to the success of future New York leaders and this administration remains committed to removing barriers to healthy food options, while providing a supportive, effective learning environment for students across this great state," he said.

Cuomo will deliver his State of the State address Jan. 3 in Albany.

Cayuga County unemployment rate climbs in November

Cayuga County's jobless rate went higher last month, despite an increase in the number of residents who are working.

Figures released this week by the state Department of Labor put the county's November unemployment rate at 4.9 percent, up from 4.6 percent in the same month of 2016. The most recent local rate was also above both the statewide (4.5 percent) and nationwide (3.9 percent) rates. Those figures were not adjusted for typical seasonal changes.

Cayuga County's increased jobless rate was fueled by an increase in the number of unemployed residents, which grew by 100 to 1,800. Employed residents totaled 34,500, up by 200 from a year ago.

Cayuga County's unemployment rate ranked 25th lowest out of 62 New York state counties. The smallest rate was reported for Queens County at 3.5 percent.

In a separate report issued last week, the state said Cayuga County employers filled 25,500 non-farm positions in November, a decline of 500 jobs. Private sector jobs dropped by 600 to 19,300, while government jobs increased by 100 to 6,200.