Thank you for the opportunity to testify at today’s hearing regarding the FY 2012 Budget as it relates to the Administration for Child Services. And thank you Chairperson Palma for all the hard work you and the members of the General Welfare Committee have done to protect some of the most vulnerable New Yorkers.
Today I want to specifically address the City’s proposal to eliminate 16,500 child care slots in the FY 2012 budget, and some of the inadequate measures the Administration for Children’s Services has taken thus far to communicate the implications of these cuts to impacted families. These reductions, if enacted, will have devastating consequences for working families, their children, our economy and the child care system at large.
The proposed cuts will eliminate roughly one-third of the City’s subsidized child care slots and impact some of our most vulnerable children – those enrolled in both full-time, center-based programs, as well as those entrusted to the care of home-based providers. The estimated $75 to $90 million in near-term savings will result in long-term consequences for thousands of working parents who, struggling to make ends meet, will be forced to make the intolerable choice of leaving their jobs in order to care for their children, or putting their children in less desirable, less safe childcare arrangements. Those forced to leave work to care for their children inevitably end up in the ranks of the City’s unemployed and have to seek other government assistance —outcomes that are certain to add costs to the City.
I am particularly concerned about the loss of slots at the most comprehensive, center-based programs -- those which offer children three meals a day, instruction from licensed child care providers, and a monitored curriculum. These programs play a vital role in narrowing the achievement gap by providing a crucial educational bridge for children from low-income backgrounds, helping them develop vocabulary and language skills that get them ready to start Kindergarten on day one.
It has also come to my attention that ACS sent letters to 11,000 impacted families in mid-February, notifying them of the termination of their subsidy and offering information about alternative programs, including Head Start, Universal Pre-K (UPK), Kindergarten, and Out-of-School Time (OST) programs. A child’s eligibility for a given program depends on families’ annual income over the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), and a “priority” level that indicates how long they have been in the system. To the best of my knowledge, ACS has not provided families with contact information for people who can help answer questions they may have about why their subsidies were terminated, or determining the programs for which their children may be eligible.
It is bad enough that the City is telling hard working families who have relied on safe and stable day care options that they no longer have those options. It is an utter disgrace, however, to leave them out in the cold, absent useful information and supports to help them figure out what their next steps should be. Navigating this system would be a challenge for those of us with years of experience working in government. For parents working multiple jobs or who may have language barriers, many of whom have limited time to investigate where they can get answers to their questions, this is a daunting task.
There are many questions left unanswered. Before moving forward with cuts, the City needs to address how ACS will answer the following questions:
- Will all families whose vouchers are being terminated be able to enroll their children in full-time day care, at a comparable price to what they had been paying, through one of the other services that ACS listed in its letter?
- Beyond a mailing about different childcare options, what specific information has ACS provided to families about the process of applying to and enrolling their children in alternative programs?
- Who are the points of contact that affected families can reach out to should they have questions about their subsidies being terminated, and the application/enrollment process in other programs?
- Given that ACS has advised parents to enroll their children in the Department of Education’s (DOE) UPK programs, how are the two agencies working together to ensure that the DOE can accommodate the enrollment increase it will see in these programs, and that all children in impacted families will have access to seats?
It is a mistake to collapse the safety net for hard working New Yorkers. Cuts to core services must be accompanied with short-term and long-term plans on how the City will deal with the ensuing consequences – such as job loss, child development and safety, and burdens on other government resources. At a time when our priorities should be helping people find or maintain work, it makes little sense to propose policies that will inevitably result in driving up unemployment, as well as costs to the City.
I urge the City to reexamine these cuts and devise a solution that is both fiscally viable, and will prevent future job loss. Thank you.
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