Mayor’s budget cuts threaten day care services

BY Aline Reynolds

Emily Liu, who works at a bank in Chinatown, fears she might have to quit her job to be able to look after Stephanie, her four-year-old daughter. Stephanie attends Garment Industry Day Care.

“Day care is very important… the kids can learn, and the parents can work,” said Liu. “If you cut the budget, where would the kids go?”

Liu was referring to Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed budget for the coming fiscal year, which is poised to eliminate a portion of funding for child care services citywide.

The mayor’s preliminary budget, announced in February and set to be finalized by July 1, proposes to cut day care subsidies for nearly 17,000 children, including funding for 135 youths in District One and 124 youths in District Two. The city is also planning to cut eight classrooms containing 150 children in District One day care centers and one classroom of 20 children in District Two centers. As a result, the organizations’ operational budgets will diminish, making it difficult for them to keep the programs afloat.

Distressed childcare advocates from around the city have united to form the Emergency Coalition to Save Child Care, demanding that Bloomberg restore the funds they say are critical to early childhood development.

“In decades, we’ve never seen 17,000 kids lose [services] all at once,” said Betty Holcomb, policy director at the Center for Children’s Initiatives, a citywide child care advocacy group. “What this means is, the city is not only crippling the system of centers… they’re also turning their back on the commitment to make sure we grow these services and make them available to low-income families.”

As it is, Holcomb noted, only about 27 percent of eligible children citywide are receiving government subsidies for day care services.

“Our great concern is that families who are often just piecing it together financially rely significantly on the subsidized care… for the educational development of their children, but also so that they can go to work every day and know that their kids are cared for,” said Liz Accles, senior policy analyst for early childhood education at the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, which oversees a handful of child care service groups Downtown and on the Lower East Side.

“These cuts will leave parents at risk of losing their jobs because they cannot find a safe place for their child while they’re at work. That’s not smart planning,” said Gregory Brender, policy analyst at United Neighborhood Houses of New York, a membership organization that operates six Downtown day care centers, including the Chinese-American Planning Council and the University Settlement.

The C.P.C. is anticipating a slash in subsidies for 60 (or a quarter) of the 240 spots offered to children in its three day care centers — Garment Industry, Little Stars and Chunk Pak — which would deprive the organization of approximately $900,000 in annual operating revenue.

The shortfall might force C.P.C. executive director David Chen to shut down one or more of the centers. “We don’t have the profit structure to absorb the 25 percent cut,” he said. “There is less money and fewer people, but the [operating] expenses are the same.”

Were Chen to consolidate three centers into two, he said, the remaining centers would become overcrowded, teachers would be displaced and families would be inconvenienced by having to travel longer distances.

Generally speaking, Chen said the financial cuts could threaten the community-based model of day care centers as a whole — a “very unsettling” prospect. “There’s a danger that neighborhood groups like us could be replaced by franchise companies,” he said, which would diminish the neighborhood flavor of the services.

“I think [day care] is an easy start for kids,” said Chinatown resident Julia Yip, whose five-year-old daughter, Charlene Cho, attends Garment Industry. Without the services, Yip said, “nobody would be here to watch my daughter, because there is no help at home. It would all go [downhill] from there.”

Over at University Settlement, 20 of the 147 available slots at the early childhood center will be lost due to the city budget cuts, in addition to 36 out of 208 spaces in the organization’s family child care program, according to Director of Early Childhood Programs Nina Piros.

“We’re upset because we know the demand for child care — especially infant care and family child care — is very high,” said Piros, noting that there are more than 400 children currently on the organization’s wait list for day care services. Families, she noted, won’t have access to the parenting, mental health and nutrition counseling University Settlement offers in conjunction with the daycare services, Piros said.

The organization will also have to lay off at least three full-time employees, which Piros fears will have a negative impact on staff morale.

Forty-five out of 51 City Council members opposed the cuts to the day care services, including District One Councilmember Margaret Chin.

“These are day care programs put on by dedicated social service organizations that have served the Lower Manhattan community for decades,” said Chin. “We should be making sure that all New Yorkers have access to universal day care, not cutting the little that we have.”