Child services on the budget chopping block, again

Bob Townley (center) with some of his I.S. 289 students at a rally last Tuesday to protest the cuts for after school programs in the mayor’s 2013 budget. Photo by John Bayles

BY JOHN BAYLES | On Tuesday, April 17, the sidewalk along Broadway near City Hall was packed with parents and kids rallying to save after school programs that are once again on the chopping block.

In March, Mayor Bloomberg released the preliminary budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year that included $170 million in cuts to children’s services. The rally was organized by Campaign for Children, a coalition made up of more than 150 New York City organizations.

The Campaign for Children website states, “Mayor Bloomberg’s sweeping cuts to child care and after-school programs are an assault on New York City’s children and working families. Without access to these programs, more than 47,000 children will be denied the opportunities they need for success, and their working parents will be forced to make potentially unsafe arrangements for their children in order to keep their jobs.”

There’s nothing new about a proposed budget targeting childcare services as an area where dollars can be saved. But the difference this time around, according to Manhattan Youth founder and president Bob Townley, is the magnitude of the cuts.

“The cuts are much higher than before,” said Townley. “The magnitude is always important and it’s really important to understand that these programs have not been expanded even in good times.”

Townley mentioned the fact that the programs his organization offers seem to always face cuts, even when economic times are good.

“We could take a one percent cut during bad times, but we should be getting the five percent increase during the good times,” said Townley.

Townley recalled a period in the city’s history when Community Boards had “vibrant” staff, when there were Community School Boards with unlimited resources and when communities even had government money for “planning boards.” Those times have come and gone.

“Frankly I’m sick of each spring having to devote time to fighting for these programs,” said Townley. “I may sound ungrateful – it’s hard enough running the program year round, but every year, the staff thinks they’re losing their job and has to devote time to rallies and spreading the word about the cuts.”

Noting the success of organizations like the Downtown Little League , Townley said, “The little leagues are for little kids, but in middle school, when kids are fighting obesity and their parents are working [these services are crucial].”

Asked if he was looking forward to a new mayor in 2013, Townley pointed out that the mayor is not the entire problem. But he did state that Mayor Bloomberg simply isn’t “cut” in a way that allows him to focus on the “little guy” and “the little programs” and that the city needs a mayor who believes in a commitment to community-based programming.

Townley believes the answer is an overall transformation of how community-based programming is viewed in the eyes of government. He pointed out that even Governor Andrew Cuomo’s state budget included cuts to child services.

“After school programs are so low on the totem pole and that has to change,” said Townley.



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