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NYC owes child care providers millions in refunds

New York City owes early childhood education programs millions of dollars in refunds from last school year — a delay putting thousands of families “at great risk” of losing services, advocates warn.

More than 126,000 children under age 5 rely on city-contracted early childhood programs or use vouchers for subsidized care.

But administrators contracting with the Department of Education accuse of repeatedly missing pay – or having to take out personal loans or lines of credit – while waiting for payments.

Others report being pushed to the brink of closing their centers, directors told The Post in interviews over the past two months.

“Without immediate action, the city’s child care plan will not just go unfulfilled,” read a joint statement Thursday from a coalition of seven nonprofits and associations.

“Most importantly, the early childhood care and education sector – its workforce and the children and families who depend on it – will be irreparably harmed,” the advocates said.

A survey by the Day Care Council of New York – one of the providers who signed the statement – ​​showed that 41.5% of respondents delayed payment to their employees or suppliers due to late reimbursements from the DOE. The organization represents a few hundred of the approximately 1,400 early childhood programs that contract with the city.

More than 126,000 children under age 5 rely on city-contracted early childhood programs or use vouchers for subsidized care.
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Day Care Council representative Gregory Brender said the providers he represents have taken out personal loans of up to $200,000 — and they owe the city up to $4 million for multiple sites.

The call to action was also signed by the Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York, the Committee for Hispanic Children and Families, the FPWA, the Human Services Council, United Neighborhood Houses and the UJA Federation of New York.

“The point where we are, the discussion is whether we are going to shut down some of these sites,” said Elizabeth McCarthy, CEO of Sheltering Arms, a social service organization that runs six early childhood education programs in the Bronx, Manhattan and Queens. .

NYC owes child care providers millions in refunds
The DOE blamed former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration — but things are no better after about nine months under a new mayor and schools chancellor.
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Sheltering Arms owes nearly $2 million in refunds from last year. Each site has its own contract with the DOE, and one site hasn’t been paid since October, according to McCarthy.

“We just don’t think we can go on,” she said.

The financial crisis comes as child care programs are “closing in record numbers”, according to the mayor’s latest management report – including 400 providers who closed permanently in the first year of the pandemic.

“They [the DOE] just don’t give us the money they’re supposed to give us on time,” said Rosa Gillette, director of the Lexington Children’s Center in East Harlem, who twice missed pay. “And who suffers? The children, the staff.

Gillette, who cut her own hours to make ends meet, told the Post she plans to retire.

“As a principal – to run a school this way – I’ve had enough. I got tired of struggling with never having enough money,” she said.

The DOE blamed former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration — but things are no better after about nine months under a new mayor and schools chancellor.

DOE spokeswoman Suzan Sumer said last month that the agency “has inherited faulty systems that were implemented with Universal Pre-K that require updating – an ongoing priority of this administration.” .

The DOE also attributed the payment backlogs to enrollment declines, adding that some vendors were facing issues with the contracting process itself.

Child care advocates also warn of more financial hardship to come.

An anonymous complaint to state Education Commissioner Betty Rosa on Wednesday from inside the DOE alleged the city violated state regulations for early childhood programs — and risked losing hundreds of millions of dollars.

Whistleblowers warn that if the DOE fails to follow regulations — from supporting children learning English or with disabilities to professional development — it could jeopardize more than $253 million in public funding for pre-K.

Several teams within the agency’s Early Childhood Education Division have been dismantled in recent months, employees said, including those that focus on meeting children’s needs.

About 400 educational coordinators and early childhood social workers were also fired from their positions, the complaint reads – a move the DOE says will bring those supports closer to schools, but which staff say will cut services to teachers and children. This decision has also caused confusion since “surplus” workers must submit a new job application.

“It’s a free game,” one of those staffers told the Post. “I worked under three different mayors, three different administrations. I have never seen anything so unprofessional. »

“We’re also an extra pair to make sure things run smoothly,” the staffer added. “So to pull us out of this seems very scary to me, and I would be very scared of my child being in a program without further supervision.”

Nathaniel Styer, another DOE spokesman, said the latest state audit found the agency to be in compliance.

“Work in all areas mentioned in this letter is ongoing, and our reorganization is focused on improving and improving each of these departments,” Styer added.


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