New Day Care Funding System Hurts Poor Children, Ethnic Press Reports

Councilman Charles Barron joined parents in a protest against Mayor Michael Bloomberg's proposed budget cuts for day care centers. (Photo by Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)

From Washington Heights to Chinatown to Queens, the community and ethnic media reported last week that parents and day care workers are speaking out against the closure of city-subsidized day care centers. They say the city’s new funding system will leave poor children out in the cold and working parents in a bind.

As we have reported, under a new funding policy championed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, EarlyLearn NYC, all child care organizations, including ongoing programs, must apply for funding through an open proposals process, and must show that they can raise funding for a portion of their operating costs. City officials have touted the program as a way to improve early childhood care for low-income New Yorkers, but funding cuts and the increased per-student cost under the program mean that the program will serve thousands fewer children.

A list of programs recommended for funding under EarlyLearn (PDF) leaves out many established neighborhood programs, and has angered some by awarding large contracts to relatively unknown day care networks such as the Jewish B’Above Worldwide Institute.

The Epoch Times, in its coverage of budget hearings, reports that approximately 10,800 children are in danger of being displaced beginning in July. In a dance that has become an annual ritual, City Council members in previous years have restored funding after budget cuts have been proposed to city services. But the size of the proposed budget cut for the Administration for Children’s Services means the funding may be difficult to restore this year.

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.”

The Epoch Times also reported on a demonstration outside of City Hall last Wednesday, where parents, students and day care workers condemned the proposed cuts. Lijung Chan, an assistant teacher at the Chung Pak Day Care in Chinatown, said that the cuts will do more damage to an essential service that is already stretched thin.

Under the proposed budget cuts, the government will stop funding for the child care division of the Chinese-American Planning Council. Chan said her day care will be forced to close as a result. At least four major Chinatown day care centers will close, according to David Chen, executive director of the Chinese-American Planning Council.

“Let me illustrate to you what kind of kids we take care of,” Chan said. The center looks after a boy who wears his sister’s hand-me-down pants, a child who spends his nights at homeless shelters with his mother to avoid his abusive father, and the child of a mother who works six days a week because the father was in Iraq.

In Washington Heights, the cuts would be devastating for working families, the director of one center told the Manhattan Times.

“The 10033 zip code is wiped out,” explained Nereida Hill, Executive Director of the Washington Heights Day Care Center, located on 175th Street between Broadway and St. Nicholas Avenue.

Hill was referring what amounts to an eradication of most of the early childhood education programs in the 10033 zip code.

Hill noted that while the discussion in light of Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed cuts on recent budget cuts has focused on after-school programs, three daycare service providers – the Washington Heights Day Care Center, Quo Vadis Daycare, and La Familia Day Care – may be forced to close.

Parents said that the proposed cuts create an impossible dilemma for low-income families that struggle to make ends meet.

“I would have to lose my job and rely on government assistance if they close this daycare,” said Gina Trifolio, parent to 7-year-old Vincenzo and 3 year-old Valentino Trifolio.

Both sons are both enrolled in the day care.

“With what I earn, I cannot afford a private baby sitter for both my children. I’ll be working just for a sitter. That makes no sense,” she added, while holding her youngest son in her arms.

The immigrant-dense neighborhoods of Queens will suffer a similar blow, the Queens Courier reported.

More than 30 Out-of-School-Time (OST) programs throughout the borough may have to close their doors, affecting thousands of children, according to advocates. With the cuts will also come job losses.

“For children, we see again and again the benefits after-school education has on their development,” [Gregory] Brender [of United Neighborhood Houses] said. “Now, the city is saying only some kids are deserving of these services.”

More than 5,000 OST slots in Queens would be eliminated if the budget passes in June, according to the Department of Youth and Child Development (DYCD).

Our Time Press blamed the new selection process under EarlyLearn NYC for the cuts, and pointed out that initiative will also hurt thousands of child care workers, who already work for low pay.

Early Learn NYC is the name of the Mayor’s troubled plan to reorganize the delivery of child care services. More than 100 child care and Head Start centers are scheduled to be shut down in just the first year of Early Learn, resulting in a net loss of more than 9,000 available slots for children.

More than 2,000 unionized child care and Head Start workers – who earn an average salary of just $28,000 per year – would also lose their jobs.

“This is a bad deal for thousands of struggling families, a bad deal for dedicated, low paid workers and ultimately a bad deal for all the people of New York,” commented Luz Santiago, Associate Director of AFSCME District Council 1707, which represents many of the city’s child care and Head Start employees.

World Journal reported on allegations that the initiative discriminates against centers that serve minorities.

Last year, Mayor Bloomberg introduced the EarlyLearn NYC policy, which grades day care centers.  Those that receive low scores will be closed while those with high scores will be saved.  Many day care centers in Hispanic, Asian and African American communities have received low scores and will be shut down, but large organizations, such as the YMCA, will continue to operate. In the Bronx, a day care center called B’Above has 3,000 spots for children, but it does not serve those who are considered minorities. After being repeatedly asked about the criteria for grading the centers, Ronald E. Richter, the director of ACS, could not provide an answer.

El Diario La Pensa argued that the initiative’s funding formula is flawed because it ignores income disparity in many New York City neighborhoods, leaving poor children who live in areas that are gentrifying without day care.

The most disturbing aspect of the changes, however, is the prospect that many children could lose their child care altogether because of a formula that the agency is using to determine needs by zip code. Areas with higher concentrations of children living in poverty would receive the largest number of subsidized childcare spaces.

Despite the marked disparity found in some areas, dozens of city neighborhoods have been designated as “non-targeted,” which means that they will be categorized as a low priority when the agency begins the process of reallocating resources.

“Although we were required to be a part of Early Learn NYC and have a good record, the city left us out,” said [Nereida] Gil [of the Washington Heights Child Care Center].  “Not just us but all of the nurseries located in 10033. It only left a Head Start in the upper area.”

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