Budget Threatens Programs for City Kids
UPDATE, May 3: Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s executive budget released today does not restore the cuts to children’s services first put forward in his preliminary budget.
United Neighborhood Houses called the budget “disgraceful.”
“The fact that services supporting low-income communities including after-school and child care programs have failed to rise to the top of the Mayor’s priority list is shameful,” they said in a statement.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said she was “deeply concerned.”
And Annabel Palma, Chair of the Council’s General Welfare Committee, said the loss of child care and after-school services for approximately 47,000 children was “simply unacceptable.”
“The Mayor has often sought to portray himself as a fiscal conservative who has taken an axe to wasteful spending,” said Palma in a statement. “However, the reality is that the programs slated for cuts in this year’s budget are programs that invest in low- and moderate-income people and serve as key tools for promoting economic growth.”
It’s up to the Council to now find ways to plug up holes in the budget.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s preliminary 2013 budget calls for $170 million in cuts to children’s services, including early childhood education and after school services for the city’s youth. Advocates and elected officials are not happy, and have been rallying since the proposed budget was released in February.
Funding for city subsidized childcare and after-school programs has dropped every year since 2009, according to the Campaign for Children, a coalition of more than 150 organizations fighting for kids’ services. The programs serve 43,000 fewer children than they did five years ago, and if this year’s budget cuts go through, that number will decline by an additional 47,000 fewer children served, according to the campaign.
In mid-April, the Campaign for Children held a rally on the steps of City Hall, and on May 1 sent a letter to Deputy Mayor Patricia Harris that was signed by 200 trustees and directors of nonprofits to argue how detrimental the cuts would be for working families.
Councilmember Lewis Fidler, D-Brooklyn, is the chairperson of the City Council’s Youth Services Committee. He says the proposed budget cuts have sparked a “great deal of outrage.”
“We’re losing half the after-school sites from last year,” said Fidler. “This is not the use of a scalpel, it’s the use of a hatchet on the heads of children.”
Indeed, the Department of Youth and Community Development, which administers funds for the city’s after-school programs, called Out-of-School Time (OST), recently announced that there are far fewer awardees for the Request for Proposals (RFPs) to run OST. The city slashed the number of after-school spots from approximately 53,000 this year to roughly 25,000 next year. Five years ago, there were about 80,000 spots, sources said.
“The city will continue to provide high-quality, comprehensive services to our students through the Out of School Time program, and we are working within our financial reality to do so,” the Department of Youth and Community Development said in a statement to DNA Info.
The mayor’s executive budget is expected to be released later this week and must be passed by the City Council. According to Fidler, regardless of other cuts to city programs, council members will likely rally around youth services to restore funding.
“They realize the tangible affect it has on their districts,” he said.
But advocates want to see Bloomberg restore the funding, and not the council, which can only restore funding for one year.
“When the mayor restores money to the budget, that can support multi-year programming,” said Nancy Wackstein, executive director of the community advocacy group United Neighborhood Houses and a member of the Campaign for Children steering committee. “Parents need to know more than one year.”
The awardees of an RFP for the city’s EarlyLearn program, an educational child care program administered by the Administration for Children’s Services, have yet to be released, which is causing concern because the number of children that will be served is unknown.
“People are describing the OST awards as a bloodbath,” said Wackstein. “When the EarlyLearn awards are announced it’s going to be just as serious.”
A spokesperson for the Bloomberg administration told the Huffington Post in April that the city’s Early Learn program, set to begin in September, is “generous and comprehensive.”
Both EarlyLearn and OST programs help families that are less well-off than other New Yorkers, said Wackstein, who added that Bloomberg, who is invested in job creation and economic development, should in theory support them.
“These programs allow parents to work,” she said.
Fidler went one step further. If kids have nowhere to go after school, parents may have to quit their jobs. “I can’t believe the mayor wants that, that’s stupid,” he said.
Annabel Palma is the Chair of the City Council’s Committee on General Welfare. In a statement, Palma denounced the cuts.
“Last year, the City Council made it a top priority to restore tens of millions of dollars for subsidized child care and after-school programs because we understood that these programs are a lifeline for working families and their children,” she said. “Unfortunately, the mayor doesn’t seem to get it and his preliminary budget, combined with the reforms laid out in the the Early Learn and OST RFPs, would once again slash child care and after-school programs for nearly 50,000 children.”
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn agrees. Last month, she called the cuts “unacceptable,” saying they’d shortchange the city’s children.
Fidler said he and other council members are prepared to “fight like hell” to restore funding.
“This is the year we draw the line in the sand,” he said.