It’s déjà vu all over again for New York City’s afterschool programs which were largely cut, once again, from Mayor Bloomberg’s preliminary budget.
In 2012, the City Council successfully fought to restore $150 million to the budget, saving programs for more than 47,000 children at risk of losing care. This year’s budget eliminates $135 million from childcare and afterschool programs, including those at PS 18, PS 34 and School Settlement Association, as well as Small World Daycare.
With the axe hanging again, on Wednesday, Councilmembers Steve Levin and Diana Reyna rallied with hundreds of parents and advocates for the restoration of the funds at a Town Hall they co-organized with St, Nick’s, the Campaign for Children NYC and the Afterschool Alliance.
According to The Campaign for Children, a coalition of more than 150 childcare and after-school advocacy and provider organizations, City funded programs are more crucial than ever, with one third of the City’s children living in poverty. In North Brooklyn, that number jumps to more than half, as per a 2013 report by the Citizens Committee for Children.
Advocates for restoring the funds say the benefits of investing in high quality early childhood education and after-school programs, particularly for low-income children are well known. They cite studies that childcare and after-school programs help close the achievement gap by ensuring that children are prepared to start school and continue to achieve once there. They also provide a safe, educational place for working parents to leave their children while they support their families.
“The fact that our City’s child services are not baselined in the budget is beyond irresponsible,” said Reyna. “Afterschool programming and childcare services facilitate the safe and healthy development of our children and provide the daily support that working families need.”
For many observers, the cuts, rallies and restorations are part of the annual “budget dance” between the Mayor and Council, in which the Mayor “cuts” important services and the Council heroically restores them. Critics, however, say the “budget dance” creates instability among parents and youth who depend on these needed programs. Williamsburg parent Lisa Velez, whose 7-year-old daughter attends afterschool at School Settlement Association, was one of many parents not prepared to take a restoration for granted. “Not knowing the outcome for next year causes a severe hardship for me financially and emotionally,” she explained. “I can’t afford to go part-time or to stay home, and emotionally it impacts my family because this has been part of our lives for many years. My children have gotten really close to the staff and their friends, and now they’re worried it’ll be taken away.”
It’s no easier for the providers. A Campaign for Children survey asked them to rank how much the budget dance affected them in areas such as staff recruitment, turnover and morale, fundraising and planning for future academic years. Both the child care and after-school providers rated fundraising and planning for future academic years as two of the most difficult issues for their programs.
“Childcare and afterschool are critical components of family stability and long-term community health. They cannot be neglected,” said Lai-Wan Wong, Director of St. Nicks Youth and Education. St. Nicks Alliance serves more than 1,000 Williamsburg/Greenpoint families in afterschool programs.
Often, a successful restoration of funds comes at the expense of other necessary programs for low- to moderate-income people, highlighting the need for strong organization within the community.
“These types of cuts run counter to our values as New Yorkers,” said Levin. “I am proud to stand with my colleagues to make sure we continue to provide afterschool and childcare programs that families across New York City depend on and deserve.”