NEW YORK—The parents of 10,800 children are in jeopardy of losing their subsidized child care as early as the end of June due to a one-two punch of budget shortfalls and a change in how the city’s Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) subsidizes child care programs.
“This seems to be a pattern every year, where it is on the council to do extraordinary things to restore what ought to be ACS’s obligation,” City Council member Stephen Levin said during the executive budget hearings at City Hall on Tuesday.
While similar shortfalls have been filled in the past, such deep cuts this year could be exceptionally difficult to fill.
Levin noted the $84 million proposed budget reduction from last year in the ACS budget while other departments had increases in their budgets.
“Why on earth do we decrease the budget so drastically for our youngest children?” asked Levin.
Ronald Richter, commissioner of the New York City ACS, explained 6,500 spots in city-funded centers would lose their funding unless a $71.5 million shortfall is filled.
In addition, 4,300 vouchers, which allow parents to receive subsidized child care at non-city funded centers, would also lose their funding unless an $11.8 million shortfall was filled.
When asked what parents are supposed to do with their children, who no longer have subsidized child care, when they go to work, Richter replied, “We, for families who are losing ACS, are going to work with them to try to answer person by person that question. We will obviously, based on what you are looking at, not have a satisfactory answer for each individual and that is painful.”
Not Just a Number
These cuts in services will affect more than just numbers on a spreadsheet.
“The children are just like a piece of data, just a piece of quantitative stuff. They are not thinking about the qualitative impact,” said Joan Morris, director of Bethel Day Care Center in Brooklyn.
Her center, which has been providing care for the underserved for 40 years, is one of many on the chopping block under ACS’s new Early Learn program.
Morris was one of the 282 centers that submitted proposals for the new Early Learn program—149 were approved. Proposals were judged with the following criteria: 40 percent for approach, 40 percent level for organizational capability, and 20 percent on quantity and quality of successful relevant experience.
Despite the fact that she had not changed her curriculum, which had received funding approval the previous year under the old system, Morris said she scored 75 percent based on the new criteria and was notified she would no longer have funding after June 30.
“Where will I put the children? I have nowhere to put the children,” she said.
She recently received a letter from the ACS claiming the closing date had been moved to Nov. 5, only to receive an email a few days ago saying the letter was erroneous and that June 30 is the correct date.
Morris said parents are holding out hope, but remain in limbo, just like her.
“Summer is coming up. Where are they going to put their kids during this time? Leave them at home? Take them to unlicensed providers?” she said.
Council member Levin pointed out that confusion in closure dates results in a lack of planning. Centers awarded the new contracts under Early Learn are set to take over on Oct. 1 however, the outgoing centers have been told to close by June 30.
“This is actually a logistical nightmare going on right now,” Levin said.
Richter was not given a chance to respond.
“I am not going to allow for the timing of these processes to essentially be a death sentence for these programs that have all been around for 40 years. They are institutions in the neighborhood,” Levin said, speaking specifically about seven centers in his district, the 33rd District in Brooklyn.
For Morris, it is more than just policies and programs, formalities and funding. When asked what she would tell the department responsible for making budget cuts Morris replied, “I would let him know that children’s life and the life of families transcend the monetary data that they are using to judge and use to dictate the future and the life for these children. They are the future. They are the flame that is going to enlighten our world tomorrow.”
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