As another school year gets under way, a city program that provides after-school and holiday child care for 10,000 low-income students is being overhauled, threatening to wreak havoc on their parents’ ability to work.
During budget negotiations this summer, the city axed a quarter of the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) $60 million school-age child care budget, and shifted oversight of the programs to the Department of Youth and Community Development, part of a citywide effort to streamline services. But unlike ACS, DYCD does not intend to use means testing to determine which parents need help the most. That has advocates worried.
“There’s a promise to serve the same number of children,” said Amy Cooper, a policy analyst at Child Care, Inc., a resource and referral group. “But it’s not clear if it will continue to be the most needy children.” Approximately 10,000 school-age children currently receive care in ACS centers, but that’s only a small fraction of those who need it. As of April 34,875 children were on the waiting list for ACS centers and child care vouchers. While ACS uses means testing to prioritize its waiting list, DYCD has no plans to do so.
Jettisoning means testing could also jeopardize an important source of funding: federal dollars aimed at low-income and public assistance families. ACS receives a wide array of grants, including federal child care and welfare dollars that only flow to programs using means testing, but the 10,000 DYCD slots are slated to be funded with city tax money alone.
In January DYCD will officially transfer to its own administrative rosters day-care programs for 1,400 school-age children currently cared for at 11 ACS centers. The agency expects to move the remaining slots by July, when DYCD plans to have a new care system in place. Meanwhile, DYCD is reimbursing ACS for providing school-age care at ACS rates, an arrangement advocates contend will deplete the reduced program funding by April, leaving summer programs in the lurch.
Though city officials promise the changes won’t diminish the number of children receiving care, those familiar with the system say the numbers simply don’t add up. Child care at ACS runs about $3,300 per child, according to the Independent Budget Office, but the city expects to spend only about $2,400 per child for care at DYCD. “You can’t pull $25 million out of a system and keep it all the same,” warned Michelle Yanche, staff director of the Neighborhood Family Services Coalition. “The question is, what’s going to give?”
The Bloomberg administration assured council members at a hearing in May that the cuts would only come from administrative streamlining, not reductions in services or care quality, a sentiment that is echoed by DYCD.
But without a concrete plan on the table, there’s been very little to reassure parents or child care professionals, who would be most directly impacted by the changes. “There’s been no needs assessment, no discussion of what an RFP would say,” said Cooper. “As far as we know, there’s no real plan.”