By Jeff Mays
HARLEM—Mayor Bloomberg's cuts to childcare programs for low-income parents will disproportionately affect families living in Harlem, Washington Heights and Inwood, council members said.
Protesters are organizing demonstrations to limit the damage.
"We've got to get all the parents out. We need to march on City Hall. We need to let the mayor know we won't stand for this," said Inez Dickens, the assistant deputy majority leader who represents Central Harlem.
Dickens joined council members Robert Jackson, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Ydanis Rodriguez and over 150 parents, teachers and children Thursday night at Colonel Young Park at West 143rd and Lenox Avenue.
More than 80 percent of cuts in the entire borough would hit Upper Manhattan, the council members said. Central Harlem would face the greatest number of lost classroom slots.
Originally, cuts to the budget of the city's Administration for Children's Services would have eliminated $91 million in funding that paid childcare costs for 16,000 low-income children so that their parents could work or go to school. Up to 600 teachers would have been laid off and almost 200 classrooms shut down.
Bloomberg recently announced a plan that would restore $40 million in funding and save 4,400 of the childcare slots. Some 10,500 children would also be enrolled in an expansion of the Department of Youth and Community Developments' Out-of-School Time program.
Critics say that solution falls short because it wouldn't cover parents who work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and would require some parents to take their children out of the neighborhood for daycare.
Jackson, who represents West Harlem, said there is an almost $5 billion surplus and reserve that should be used to stave off the cuts.
"There shouldn't be any layoff of teachers, any loss of childcare slots and no closing of firehouses," Jackson said about some of Bloomberg's proposed budget reductions.
Mark-Viverito, who represents East Harlem, said the mayor should tax the wealthy to fully fund child care programs.
"Do you believe that millionaires get a tax break even in these difficult economic times?" Mark-Viverito said. "The bottom line is we are talking about the future of these beautiful children here."
Parents like Jessica Owens, 28, said she would most likely have to quit her job at Albert Einstein College of Medicine if cuts were made to her son Rory's day care, Pequenos Souls Day Care Center on East 122nd Street.
"Without Pequenos Souls, I wouldn't be working now," said Owens who described how the day care helped her after her son's father died.
"I came to them crying and they helped me. They didn't put me on a wait list," she said.
Elias Abud, 34, an assistant administrator at Rena Day Care, had two children of his own who benefited from the program.
"This is a moral issue. They are trying to balance the budget using our kids, the ones that need it the most," he said.
Rodriguez, who represents Inwood and Washington Heights, said the cuts were "playing with the future of the city."
"It's our responsibility to fight for day care and early childhood education," he said.