New York City Council members have pressured the Adams administration to save a new child care voucher program for undocumented children that is at risk of disappearing just months after it began.
Barely 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. Her parents would also miss out on child care services that allow them to find work, housing, navigate immigration systems and adjust to life in the city.
“One of the difficulties that we have had, of course, is that many of our asylum seekers have not been able to work, and this program really provides an opportunity for people to start working,” said Councilwoman Shahana Hanif (D -Brooklyn) at a budget hearing on Monday. “It’s a little worrying not to see funds allocated for fiscal year 24.”
Called Promise NYC, the initiative has enrolled 172 children so far and found another 304 eligible, according to new figures from the Administration for Children’s Services provided to the Council’s general wellness committee. The agency hopes to serve 600 children for the summer.
The city has allocated $10 million for the program since January that, if not renewed, would run out in less than four months. With increasing numbers of mostly Latin American asylum seekers arriving in the Big Apple, some council members said those dollars should not only be put back into next year’s budget, but doubled.
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“The discontinuation of the program after only a few months would be profoundly detrimental not only to the providers…but also to the participating families who desperately need that stability,” Councilwoman Tiffany Cabán (D-Queens) said.
Cabán added that in Brooklyn alone, hundreds of immigrant families hope to be connected to city assistance through the local organization tapped there, the Center for Family Life in Sunset Park.
“This is a great program and it has been a priority for a lot of people here,” said Councilwoman Althea Stevens (D-Bronx), adding that many West African families in her ward could also benefit.
Administration for Children’s Services Commissioner Jess Dannhauser, who called Promise NYC an “important program,” said talks are underway about its future.
“At this time, we are still evaluating the need,” Dannhauser said. “We are making sure that all the processes are resolved. So it’s important that we provide all the analysis on what’s going well, where we see opportunities for growth, and to work with current families accessing services.”
But even if the program is ultimately included in the final city budget due this summer, councilmembers said providers who accept the coupons should be able to start planning now.
“At a time when New York City has seen an increase in immigrant families, the city should increase, and certainly not decrease, 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.”