Promise NYC was intended to help asylum-seeker families whose immigration status makes them ineligible for other, federally-funded child care assistance. But the program, which offered subsidized care for 600 children, is only slated to continue for the remainder of the school year. “I really don’t know what I’m going to do,” said one participant with a 7-month-old son.

Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

Kids peruse books donated to asylum-seekers at a city-sponsored event in March.

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Marilesis, a single mother with a 1-year-old baby, arrived in New York City in December from the southern border, just days after the city launched a historic subsidized child care program for low-income, undocumented families called NYC Promise.

In January, she found work cleaning houses but asked to be given a few days until her application for NYC Promise was approved. A couple of days later, she was dropping her baby off for the first time at a daycare in the Bronx, close to where she was starting work.

“I couldn’t do any work before” landing a spot in the program, Marilesis, 29, told a City Limits reporter in Spanish. “It’s complicated. I had no one to take my baby to, no place to care for him.”

For many undocumented families, access to childcare is key to a parent’s ability to enter the workforce, impacting both their availability to search for a job and the number of hours they can work once they find one. For asylum seekers—tens of thousands of whom have arrived in the city over the last year—it can also impact the amount of time they can spend managing their pending immigration cases.

Promise NYC was intended to help parents whose immigration status makes them ineligible for other, federally-funded child care assistance. But the program, which offered subsidized care for 600 children, is only slated to continue for the remainder of the school year, leaving some participants struggling to find affordable options for summer.

The end of the service could have a greater impact on parents with non-school-age children, who are too young to take part in Summer Rising, the city’s free academic enrichment program for grades K-8. The cost of care for a child under three in New York City runs around $18,746 a year, according to a previous estimate from the Comptroller’s office.

“I really don’t know what I’m going to do,” said another mother, Susangela, whose 7-month-old son is enrolled in NYC Promise. Like other participants interviewed for this story, she asked City Limits to use only her first name for privacy reasons.

It’s still not clear if the city will extend Promise NYC to make it year-round, several council members and program operators told City Limits, and administration officials declined to comment on City Limits’ questions about future plans. Budget negotiations are still taking place; lawmakers have until the end of June to pass a final spending plan for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1. 

The $10 million initially put forth to fund the program only covers six months; extending it to cover the full school year, as requested by advocates, would require $20 million in the Fiscal Year 2024 budget (for context: Mayor Eric Adams’ entire city budget proposal sits at nearly $103 billion).

Even so, this would not solve the problem many families face this summer, especially single parents who have found jobs as a result of the program. Susangela, 31, pays $1,100 monthly rent for a room in an apartment. Her income increased by 50 percent thanks to Promise NYC, because she can now work full-time in a beauty salon while her son is in care, as well as do in-home nail services for some clients and even clean houses on weekends.

“I’ll have to stop working, because if I can’t take care of him, who can? Or look for someone to take care of him, but it’s very expensive. I would have to go to a shelter,” Susangela, who works in a salon, told City Limits in Spanish. “Summer is the busiest season in beauty salons.”

Tens of thousands of asylum seekers have arrived in New York over the last year, including 14,000 children who’ve enrolled in city schools; advocates estimate that around 40 percent of all newly-arrived immigrant children in the city are under the age of 5.

Clarena, a 25-year-old single mother staying in a homeless shelter, said her 2-year-old son speaks more after entering daycare through Promise NYC, now using English almost all the time. “It has benefited my child’s freedom,” she said in Spanish.

“He was a very restless child. In the shelter, we spent a lot of time locked in the room,” she explained. “Now he is a calmer child, and he has learned to socialize with others. He’s learning the songs that I played for him. He speaks much more, he had a language lag before.”

Both advocates and community-based organizations contracted by the city to offer services under Promise NYC argued that discontinuing the program after just six months would be deeply disruptive to the families, and the short-lived stability the aid helped bring. In March, more than 60 organizations called on the mayor to extend the budget for Promise NYC and several other programs that have city funding expiring in June.

“We have been in talks with the Administration to explore the possibility of extending the program into the new fiscal year. As of now, we have no further information on the program’s status beyond its scheduled end,” said Alice Du, director of communications at the Chinese American Planning Council (CPC), which has handled applicants residing in Queens.

“We are receiving multiple inquiries every day and have established a waitlist for those who are interested in applying,” Du added. The organization has a waiting list of more than 400 applicants as of March 30. The Center for Family Life, which implemented the initiative in Brooklyn, has more than 100 families on its wait list.

As of March 24, more than 730 children whose parents applied for Promise NYC have been determined eligible by participating CBOs, and over 320 of those have enrolled in a child care program, per New York City Administration for Children’s Services data.

“If we don’t continue the program, it will put kids on the streets, take a group of children and put them back in situations where they have to accompany their parents to work,” said Center for Family Life Co-Director Julia Jean-Francois said. “This was the first time they sent their kids to an early education school.”

Evelyn, 30, has her 7-year-old daughter in daycare after school ends at 2 p.m. At the end of the workday, she or her husband, who works in a barber’s shop, picks her up. She says that in the seven months she has been in the city, she has not found a job that would allow her to leave early in the afternoon to pick up her daughter, and doesn’t know what she will do this summer because she just got full-time work cleaning offices.

Families with school-aged children like hers will have an opportunity to apply for the city’s Summer Rising program, which offers academic support and school-based enrichment programming for kids 5 and up while the school year is out of session.

On Friday, officials announced details for the 2023 program, which will have seats for 110,000 kids. This year there will not be a first-come, first-served enrollment process, but rather the application will be open for a set period of time (April 17-May 1), unlike last year when available slots were filled quickly. 

The city will prioritize enrollment of students in temporary housing, students mandated to attend school for 12 months on their individualized education programs, or IEPs, and those “with a local connection to the school-year CBO program or school community.”

However, immigrant advocates complained that asylum seekers living in temporary housing and the city’s Humanitarian Emergency Response and Relief Centers, or HERRCs, will not have their own set-aside allocation of seats.

Andrea Ortiz, education policy manager at the New York Immigration Coalition, said that the city should launch an outreach plan to ensure families of newly arrived immigrants, as well as other historically marginalized groups, will be able to participate in the program.

Of the six immigrant families with school-age children City Limits spoke with for this piece, none were aware of the Summer Rising program, and said that neither the shelters nor the schools had told them about it.