Councilmembers Decry Administration For Eliminating Priority-7 Vouchers

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greenfieldA coalition of New York City Councilmembers, including Councilmembers David Greenfield, Steve Levin, Brad Lander, Lew Fidler and Letitia James, is furious with the City for cutting Priority 7 Day Care Vouchers in the middle of the school year, leaving thousands of families without safe or affordable childcare.

This past June, despite great odds against them in the form of massive budget cuts, the coalition successfully restored Priority 7 for six months. Since that time, the City has announced another $2 billion in mid-year budget cuts. Last month, Councilmembers Greenfield and Levin met with Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs to discuss extending funding for Priority 7 Childcare Vouchers for the remainder of the fiscal year, through June 2011. Priority 7, which primarily benefits Orthodox Jewish families who are historically underserved by the Administration for Children’s Services, provides desperately needed childcare for thousands of low-income families throughout New York City. Deputy Mayor Gibbs informed the Councilmembers in October’s meeting that she was unwilling to discuss extending the program. In fact, she told the Councilmembers that a unilateral decision was reached to terminate the program earlier than the six months agreed upon in June. What’s more, she insisted that letters informing parents that Priority 7 would end in November were going out the next day.

“We were shocked that we received less than 24 hours notice of the program’s early termination,” said Councilman Greenfield who immediately protested the move. “Quite frankly, we were floored that instead of engaging in honest negotiations, the City was reneging on a prior agreement that we reached in good faith.”

Councilmembers Greenfield and Levin immediately began advocating to ensure that the agreement reached with the City to keep Priority 7 running through December was honored. After tense negotiations, the Councilmembers were successful in keeping the program operational until December 31, 2010. But, to further express their discontent, the next day the entire coalition hand delivered a letter to Mayor Michael Bloomberg respectfully requesting a meeting to discuss the future of Priority 7. A meeting was promised with the Mayor after termination letters were mailed to parents of Priority 7 recipients this past Friday, however, no date has been set by the Mayor for a meeting with the coalition.

“Thousands of Brooklyn families rely on Priority 7 vouchers for essential child care. It’s totally unacceptable that Mayor Bloomberg would send them termination letters today — just six months after he agreed to extend them — without even answering our letter requesting a meeting with him to talk about potential alternatives,” noted Councilman Brad Lander.

Echoing Councilman Lander’s sentiment, Councilman Levin said, “Priority 7 vouchers are a vital lifeline for families in Williamsburg and throughout Brooklyn. I am extremely disappointed that the Mayor sent termination letters out to families before meeting with us to discuss acceptable alternative plans to Priority 7 vouchers. We cannot leave families without childcare options.”

In recent years, Priority 7 has become the default option for reducing ACS’s budget shortfall. But, while other programs are recommended for funding reductions, Priority 7 has consistently been slated for total elimination at the expense of a single ethnic community, despite that community’s overwhelming need for publicly funded childcare. In fact, a 2008 report published by ACS noted that the heavily Orthodox neighborhoods of Boro Park and Williamsburg, where the majority of Priority 7 vouchers are distributed, had the largest unmet need for publicly funded childcare. And, by ACS’ own admission, 92.1% of the 2,200 children receiving Priority 7 vouchers are living below 100% of the poverty level.

“I am deeply disturbed that the Administration has chosen to abandon the families in dire need of Priority 7 vouchers and the institutions whose lives depend on them. When government talks about a ‘safety net’, this is clearly part of it. I don’t comprehend why this Administration feels somehow that Orthodox families are less in need of critical support for their children,” said Councilman Lew Fidler.

Since termination letters were sent out, the Councilmembers’ offices were flooded with calls from frantic parents, uncertain about their childcare options.

“I’m disappointed that the future of this City and our children’s future did not make the cut by the Bloomberg Administration. It saddens me to learn that Priority 7 Childcare Vouchers will not be fully funded, and children’s lives will be disrupted when they are pulled out of day care classrooms in the new year. These vouchers simply help so many families by ensuring access to quality childcare and after school programs,” said Councilmember Letitia James. “In terms of the big picture, the growth and safety of our children is far more important than the small amount of money that the City will save by terminating this program.”

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