Members of the New York City Council pressed the Adams administration to save a new child care voucher program for undocumented children that’s at risk of disappearing just months after it started.
Roughly 40% of the thousands of newly arrived children are 5-years-old or younger and could lose access to early childhood programs after June, advocates said. Their parents, too, would miss out on child care services that enable them to find work, housing, navigate immigration systems and adjust to life in the city.
“One of the struggles we’ve had of course is that many of our asylum seekers haven’t been able to work, and this program really gives an opportunity for folks to begin working,” said Councilwoman Shahana Hanif (D-Brooklyn) at a budget hearing Monday. “It’s a bit troubling to not see funding allocated for FY24.”
Called Promise NYC, the initiative has enrolled 172 kids so far and found another 304 eligible, according to new figures from the Administration for Children’s Services provided to the Council’s general welfare committee. The agency expects to serve 600 children by the summer.
The city has allocated $10 million for the program since January that, if not renewed, would dry up in less than four months. With a growing number of mostly Latin American asylum seekers arriving in the Big Apple, some councilmembers said those dollars should not only be included again in next year’s budget — but doubled.
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“Discontinuation of the program after only a few months would be deeply disruptive not only to the providers … but to the family participants who desperately need that stability,” said Councilwoman Tiffany Cabán (D-Queens).
Cabán added that in Brooklyn alone, hundreds of immigrant families are waiting to be connected with city assistance through the local organization tapped there, the Center for Family Life in Sunset Park.
“This is a great program, and it’s been a priority for a lot of folks here,” said Councilwoman Althea Stevens (D-Bronx), who added that many West African families in her district could benefit too.
Administration for Children’s Services Commissioner Jess Dannhauser, who called Promise NYC an “important program,” said conversations are ongoing about its future.
“At this moment, we’re just still assessing the need,” said Dannhauser. “We’re making sure that all of the processes are worked out. And so it’s important that we provide all the analysis around what’s going well, where we see opportunities for growth, and for working with the current families who are accessing services.”
But even if the program is ultimately included in the city’s final budget due this summer, the councilmembers said providers who accept the vouchers need to be able to start planning now.
“At a time when New York City has seen an increase in immigrant families, the city should be increasing, and certainly not decreasing, funding for this initiative,” said Betty Baez Melo, director of the Early Childhood Education Project at Advocates for Children of New York, “so that children are not excluded from programs based on their immigration status.”
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