Community advocates are awaiting the release today of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s executive budget — and hoping he’s heard their pleas to restore funding for after school programs and daycare.
Last week, social service organizations received word that nearly 200 programs would be eliminated. The Lower East Side – with its heavy concentration of publicly funded facilities – has been hit especially hard. This evening, local elected officials and non-profit organizations are sponsoring a town hall meeting to galvanize support for saving the programs. It will be held at P.S. 134, 293 East Broadway, at 6 p.m.
If the mayor and City Council do not restore the funding, programs at Lower East Side schools P.S. 2, P.S. 20, P.S. 124, P.S. 142, P.S. 137 and P.S. 140 would be forced to shut down. Across the city, about 25,000 kids would be served as opposed to 53,000 who are now attending various programs.
At a news conference held yesterday, David Chen of the Chinese American Planning Council (which runs three of the programs slated for closure) said the impact in Chinatown would be devastating. He estimated about 700 children would be turned away. Chen added that the after school programming provides critical support to immigrant families in coping with the often bewildering public school system.
The situation at Henry Street Settlement, another neighborhood service provider, would be even worse. The city is planning to pull funding from five of its programs. Among the potential casualties: Henry Street’s Boys & Girls Republic community center on East 6th Street. The center is one of the few safe refuges for kids living along Avenue D and has recently been a focal point of the Manhattan District Attorneys office, which has launched an anti-violence recreational program at the facility.
In an interview yesterday, David Garza, Henry Street’s executive director, called the funding cuts “an assault” on working families. “When there’s no stable (after school) support system, parents cannot stay employed and they cannot properly care for their children,” he said. It’s well established, he argued, that early childhood programs provide communities the best insurance against a whole range of problems, including crime, poverty and the need for much more costly social programs.
Officials at other LES non-profits echoed Garza’s sentiments. Michael Zisser, head of University Settlement, noted that the City Council has managed to restore after school programs eliminated by the mayor in past years, but given the large funding gap, would not be able to make up the difference this time. Lynn Applebaum, chief program officer at the Educational Alliance, said her organization would be forced to serve 800 fewer children next year. “It simply doesn’t make sense at a time in which there’s a crisis in education,” she said. “It’s a huge setback.”
A few moments ago, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver released a letter sent to the mayor urging him to reconsider the after school funding cuts. Here’s a portion of that letter:
As you prepare your executive budget for the upcoming fiscal year, I ask that you consider the dire consequences that these cuts would have on our communities. Tens of thousands of children throughout our city would have no place to go after school and could be forced out into the streets. Thousands could lose their jobs, creating a negative economic impact on our neighborhoods and further disrupting families. I understand the city is facing challenging fiscal circumstances but I implore you to find ways to overcome these challenges without cutting these vital programs, which are so important to many of our most vulnerable residents.