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Council budget hearings launch with child care kickball

After-school programs face $60 million in cuts under mayor's proposed budget

Jumaane Williams

Brooklyn Council member Jumaane Williams, at podium, is joined by colleagues, child care providers, parents and kids opposed to proposed budget cuts. Photo: Alexander Hotz

The New York City Council’s Finance Committee kicked off this month’s series of Council budget hearings on Monday with a grilling of Office of Management and Budget director Mark Page.

At the hearing, council members took turns attacking the executive office’s proposed cuts to 47,000 seats to after school programs and early childhood education. Under  Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s current plan, Out of School Time after school programs face about $60 million in cuts, while child care is set to lose $42.16 million.

This is the fifth year in a row that the Mayor’s office has proposed cuts to child ccare services, which are provided by nonprofit organizations under contract. In past years, the final budget has restored some but not all of the slashed funds.

This year the proposed child care cuts come with a new twist: The city is shifting to a new early child-care model, known as Early Learn, under which the administration is forcing the centers currently under contract to reapply.

Low-income families are guaranteed child care assistance under federal law, and their care is paid for through block grants. But under the new city rules, households just above the poverty level would not be guaranteed assistance. The changeover is expected to remove at least 8,200 seats currently used by low-income working families.

Depending on how many contracts are approved, as many as 15,900 seats could be cut, predicted Greg Brender, a policy analyst at the United Neighborhood Houses.  “The Mayor just hasn’t made the commitment he needs to to New York’s children,” said Brender. “There’s just not enough care available for those who need it.”

While education cuts dominated the conversation, council members also directed criticism at proposed cuts to cultural institutions, libraries, uniformed services and programs for low income New Yorkers. Page told the council committee the city had to “work within our means” and stressed that tough choices had to be made. “There will be a discussion among us between now and June in an effort to determine what resources are available to add to the budgets these institutions,” said Page.

 

After the hearing about a dozen council members, Public Advocate Bill deBlasio and parents of children enrolled in city-sponsored child care gathered on the steps of City Hall to reiterate their displeasure with the education cuts.

“Why do we have to come out here every spring and fight for what is supposed to be a right in New York City?” asked Council member Stephen Levin. “We need an entire paradigm shift in this city.”

Council member Diana Reyna was similarly critical of the cuts to child care over the last three years. “It always begins with our children,” said Reyna. “All we’ve seen is a 61 percent decline in child care slots.”

According to the newly formed advocacy group Campaign for Children, which includes United Neighborhood Houses, child care providers and advocacy organizations, in 2009 more than 137,000 children in New York City were served by publicly funded child care and after-school programs. In 2012 the city decreased the number of seats to just over 94,000 If the Mayor’s proposal is put into effect only 53,315 children would be served, according to the Campaign for Children.

Through the rest of this month and into April the Finance Committee, chaired by Domenic Recchia of Brooklyn, will work in conjunction with other council committees to analyze and recommend changes to the city’s budget. At the end of the hearings the committee will produce a report on its findings.

The Finance Committee will also be responsible for green-lighting the city’s tax resolution, which targets the level of property taxes to be raised for the next fiscal year, as well as approving the council’s proposed restorations to the city’s budget.

The Mayor is scheduled to present his revised budget on April 26.