When John Mattingly took the helm of the Administration for Children’s Services earlier this month, the new commissioner did so safe in the knowledge that the City Council had just restored a $7.8 million cut in preventive programs for child welfare. But the threat of state budget cuts, coupled with the recent resignation of the Assembly’s Children and Families Committee Council chair, may leave Mattingly with the unenviable task of slashing services nonetheless.
Already three-and-a-half months behind schedule, and facing a court order to increase funding to New York City public schools, the budget’s future is anything but certain. In his executive budget proposal in January, Governor Pataki announced a reduction in the amount of TANF funding applied to Title XX, which funds child welfare, that could cost the city $37.9 million. With other proposed funding changes, the city's total loss could amount to $60 million, with preventive programs most threatened. This would only intensify ACS’s existing budget problems: The agency has lost roughly $360 million of its budget since 2001.
Spokespeople for both Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said they were looking for ways to avoid cuts to social services, including child welfare.
That may be harder given the loss of a traditional advocate: the Chair of the Assembly’s Children and Families Committee. Former assemblymember Roger Green (D-Brooklyn), a fierce advocate for child welfare services, who served in the Assembly for 22 years, resigned last month after pleading guilty to filing false travel expenses for reimbursement. “Not having his voice certainly reduces the chance of the restoration,” said Edith Holzer, a spokeswoman for the Council of Family and Children Caring Agencies.
If the cuts go forward, New York City could face some very tough decisions. “I don’t see right now how the city could make up that much of a shortfall,” said Michelle Yanche, director of the Neighborhood Family Services Coalition. “It seems very likely to me the city would have no choice but to cut programs.”
Nonetheless, Mattingly seems determined to meet the challenge. “I am hopeful that we can find new ways to reach out and get funds and support from other directions, especially other stakeholders,” said the new commissioner at a July 6 press conference.
Mattingly has years of relevant experience as director of reform programs at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the child welfare funder, and as a member of ACS’s advisory board, where he mediated the settlement of the controversial Marisol v. Giuliani case.
“If he needs more money and he doesn’t get it, he cannot produce it out of the air,” said Marcia Robinson Lowry, whose organization Children’s Rights Inc, brought the Marisol case. “But I have no doubt that he will fight very aggressively for whatever resources he needs.”