January 31, 2024
By Cayla Bamberger
Mayor Adams’ proposed $250 million cuts to preschool programs and youth services will drive more working class families out of the city, according to a letter from a coalition of more than 100 organizations obtained by the Daily News.
Close to 8 in 10 families cannot afford to pay for child care or after-school [programs], according to the Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York, part of the so-called “Campaign for Children.” Advocates say further reductions will only make a bad situation dire.
The warning comes amid growing concern over the affordability of the city for middle- and lower-income families.
“There is no doubt that reductions of this magnitude will harm children and youth and the workforce in these crucial programs,” read the memo signed by the campaign’s eight-member steering committee, “driving greater numbers of families out of New York City.”
The cautionary letter follows reporting by The News in November that local families were wondering if they can afford to stay in the city after Adams shaved $120 million off the early childhood education budget. Another $50 million cut added insult to injury a couple of weeks ago just as preschool application season began.
Close to $20 million is being cut from a popular summer program for middle school students, and $7 million from city-funded “COMPASS” after-school programs that will deprive more than 3,500 young people of services, according to the coalition. The Adams administration earlier this month secured long-term funding for a smaller-scale version of the summer program that ends earlier and does not include Fridays.
Fears over the cost of living in the city, including child care and other factors such as record-high rents, have been growing as a clearer picture emerges of who left during the public health crisis.
While the city’s population of wealthier households returned to prepandemic levels by 2022 after many fled during its peak, those with lower incomes have not rebounded in the same way. A recent state comptroller report found people that moved out of the city that year had a median wage of $49,000, or 18% lower than the year before.
“We are really fearful, given what we already know about who’s leaving,” said Jennifer March, executive director of the Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York. “We’re worried that the elimination of hundreds of millions of dollars for services in after-school, summer and early education will just make life much more difficult for that income cohort and encourage greater flight from the City of New York.”
Adams has defended the cuts to preschool programs as necessary with the loss of federal pandemic aid.
“We don’t want you to leave the city,” Mayor Adams said Monday to a concerned caller, a Brooklyn mom of an almost 3- year-old, on WNYC. “A family like yours is who we want here in our city.”
“First of all, 3-K, Pre‑K was on temporary dollars. It was dollars, stimulus dollars that the previous administration put in place. Those dollars are sunsetting. We have to find the right funding.”
Adams also said the demand for 3-K in some neighborhoods does not match up with available seats in that area. While some neighborhoods have empty slots in local programs, others have programs with lengthy waitlists and no nearby availability.
“We were not paying for bodies in seats,” said Adams. “We were just paying for seats, the misalignment of the number of seats that were needed in a particular community left open … We are properly aligning these seats, and our goal is to make sure every child that wants a seat will get a seat, and we have lived up to that.”
The local Department of Education warns on its own website that “due to limited seats, not all children will receive a 3-K offer” in half of the city’s 32 geographic school districts, mostly in Brooklyn and Queens.
Rather than cut the vacant slots in 3-K classrooms, advocates are pushing for changes that they say will make the process of applying for care less difficult and time-consuming — and ultimately fill those seats like they did in universal pre-kindergarten programs.
“What’s clear to me is when there was the public will and interest to fill seats [during the pre-K rollout], they were filled,” said March.
Adams last year directed all city agencies to find savings in response to the ballooning costs of caring for migrants.
But some advocates say that funding early childhood and youth programs in time will pay for themselves, helping migrants integrate into the fabric of the city and longtime New Yorkers avoid more costly services down the road.
“These are the prevention investments,” said Phoebe Boyer, president and CEO of Children’s Aid.
The alternative, Boyer said, is: “We end up with families leaving the city entirely, and this becomes a city just for those who can afford it. No one wants that. It’s not what brings vitality to a city.”
Adams on public radio Monday also underscored that his administration has cut subsidized child care costs from $55 a week down to less than $5 a week.
“So we are very much in line with making sure that we can make child care affordable,” said Adams. “We know how important it is.”
Mayoral spokeswoman Amaris Cockfield defended the cuts.
“Facing a significant budget gap, we had to make difficult decisions to balance the budget as required by law — and we did so without tax hikes, massive service reductions, or layoffs,” she said in a statement. “Thanks to measured, responsible fiscal management and better-than-expected tax revenue, we balanced the budget in January and made critical investments in schools and summer programming for our young people.”