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City's Cuts to After-School Programs Will Affect 27,000 Kids

By Julie Shapiro | January 19, 2012 1:37pm

MANHATTAN — The city's plan to chop after-school programs in half will leave tens of thousands of children with nowhere to go after school, endangering working families and putting children at risk, youth advocates and members of the City Council said Thursday.

The free five-day-a-week after-school programs currently serve about 55,000 elementary and middle-school children, providing much-needed childcare so parents can work, advocates and city officials said. The programs also offer homework help, academic enrichment, recreational and cultural activities, and, often, the child's only hot meal of the evening.

Council members and nonprofit directors at a City Council hearing Thursday slammed the city for cutting nearly 200 after-school programs that serve about 27,000 elementary and middle school students across the five boroughs as of next fall.

"That is not a budget cut — this is an atrocity," said City Councilman Lewis Fidler, who led Thursday's Youth Services Committee hearing.

"A 50 percent cut in after-school programs is tragic, beyond the pale of reasonable…under any budget circumstances."

In Manhattan, the cut will be even steeper, with just 29 programs receiving funding next fall, down from the current 71, according to the city.

The after-school cuts could force hundreds of parents to quit their jobs in order to care for their children, jeopardizing already tenuous household incomes in the neediest parts of the city, said Nancy Wackstein, executive director of United Neighborhood Houses, an umbrella group that serves about 20,000 children in after-school programs.

"We're going to leave working families, who the mayor says he is committed to, out in the cold," Wackstein said. "If we want to support working families keeping their jobs, we need after-school. If we want to keep kids off the street, from doing bad things, we need to give them good things to do."

Fidler and other members of the Youth Services Committee also criticized the Department of Youth and Community Development for deciding which programs to cut based on the level of need in each zip code.

The city classifies "high-need" zip codes based on how many children are living in poverty, how many are English language learners and how many are in state-subsidized childcare, officials said.

But that measurement does not account for economically diverse neighborhoods like the East Village and the Upper West Side, which have both luxury apartments and New York City Housing Authority complexes, said Councilwoman Gale Brewer, who represents the Upper West Side.

The city does not consider those areas high-need.

"It fails to look at public housing residents, who are arguably the highest need individuals in the city," Wackstein said of the city's methodology.

Denice Williams, assistant commissioner of the Department of Youth and Community Development, said the lower-need zip codes will still receive about 30 percent of the overall funding for after-school programs, so the city is not leaving them out.

In response to concerns that the city is trying to dismantle free after-school programs entirely, Williams said DYCD remained committed to after-school and would advocate for its future.

The city has not yet announced which specific programs will be axed. All program operators had to respond to a request for proposals earlier this month, and DYCD is expected to announce in the spring which 218 programs out of the 1,200 that applied made the cut.

Fidler urged parents to call the mayor's office to voice their concern over what he called the "draconian" reductions.

"This is just absolutely unconscionable and unthinkable," Fidler said. "It's such a drastic step backward."