Families, Providers Brace for Daycare Cuts

by Hannan Adely

A planned expansion of daycare slots for working families may have to wait another four years. Under Mayor Bloomberg’s budget proposal, the city would slash funding for the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) by 19 percent, eliminating thousands of new daycare openings.

The move would hurt local daycare organizations subsidized by the city, and would keep thousands of Bronx families on a long waiting list for child care vouchers.

“The word now, we were told by ACS, was don’t hold our breath,” said Manuela Schaudt, executive director of Concourse House, run by the Fordham Bedford Housing Corporation, which serves 24 children in its daycare program.

The city’s expansion plan, estimated at $79.8 million, would have provided 10,000 more seats throughout the city. Concourse House was approved to get 16 additional seats, and Providers United, a program run by the same nonprofit, was supposed to get 50 additional seats.

The cuts mean less quality care for kids while local providers could lose work. Providers United, a group of home-based day care providers, has had difficulties in the past getting clients who can afford the cost of child care. Without ACS vouchers, women in the program may not attract enough clients to maintain their businesses.

Locally, the need for daycare is among the greatest in the city, according to a report by the Citizens’ Committee for Children. The organization ranked Community Board 7, which includes Norwood, Bedford Park and North Fordham, as having the sixth highest need for child care among districts in the city. (Citywide, there are 30,000 families on the waiting list for ACS- subsidized daycare.)

Local need is so high that there are 350 families on the waiting list for Concourse House daycare alone. In Community District 7, a total of 4,229 children up to five years old are eligible for, but do not receive, child care subsidies, according to the report.

At the Tolentine Zeiser Day Care Center, Sr. Margaret McDermott said she gets three or four calls a day from parents looking for daycare. McDermott said she would like to extend the center’s hours to provide for parents who work evenings and weekends. “The situation now, with the economy, people need to work whenever they can,” she said. “When you’re starting out again you have to take the hours you can get.”

Many parents who work off-hours, or who cannot find daycare, leave children with a neighbor. “They have to pay money, and the children don’t get the educational component we can offer them,” McDermott said.

Schaudt said some parents are uncomfortable leaving their children in other homes. “They want the structured environment of a school setting, especially if [the provider] doesn’t have the proper training,” she said. “That’s always a hazard. They might not have window guards. They need to think about what’s under the sink.”

Schaudt is still uncertain if her daycare center will be affected by the cutbacks, while McDermott worries the Tolentine center will not be able to grow over the next few years. They hope that the City Council will reinstate cuts to ACS as it negotiates the budget with the mayor.

Local officials seem to agree with providers that child care is a top issue for the community. Community Board 7 placed child care as its second and third top priorities in its annual register of capital budget priorities requests. Councilman Joel Rivera said child care ranks in the top three priorities of the Bronx’s City Council delegation, along with education and senior services. “We’re working really hard on this,” he said. “A lot of people in my community are working people and will be affected.”

Some Council members also are fighting to regain past monies that may have been misspent. A recent City Council hearing addressed whether former mayor Rudolph Giuliani circumvented the law during his administration by spending federal and state monies earmarked for child care in other areas. The Council members want to get that money reinstated for subsidized daycare.

As the City Council negotiates, local child care providers wait to see just how they will be affected. Schaudt thinks the cuts will lead to even greater demand and could exacerbate economic woes. “Our list will continue growing,” she said. “We won’t be able to meet demands. Parents won’t be able to go to school or work and people will get stuck in that poverty gap.”