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NYC child care, after-school workers pause programs to protest low wages

The New York Daily News - 5/25/2023

Many city-contracted early childhood, afterschool and other organizations paused or cut back programs Thursday as thousands of human services workers stepped out to protest low wages.

The nonprofit employees, including those who work in food pantries and provide senior services, said the salaries have resulted in high turnover and difficulty recruiting qualified staff — lowering the quality of services that New Yorkers receive.

“We’re really worried that next year, without this investment, we’re going to have to close these services,” Michelle Jackson, executive director of the Human Services Council, told the Daily New as more than 100 organizations rallied outside City Hall. “We know it’s inconvenient.”

The coalition has called for upping their pay by 6.5% in the city budget to adjust for the rising cost of living. Mayor Adams did not include the funding in his executive proposal.

“We’re just losing staff like no tomorrow,” said Mary Cheng, director of childhood development services at the Chinese-American Planning Council, where some staff earn just cents above minimum wage. “It’s been detrimental.”

The organization took the drastic step of temporarily closing six early childhood and six after-school programs in Manhattan and Queens that collectively serve up to 1,800 children. Cheng suggested the temporary action was necessary to keep the sites staffed and open in the long-term.

“I have staff struggling, on the verge of being homeless, because rent is getting higher but the paycheck is not,” she said. “Everything is coming in waves that our sector is really feeling at this point.”

Some parents joined the protest, including Sally Wu, whose 7- and 8-year-olds attend an after-school program run by the Chinese-American Planning Council inside their school, P.S. 130 in Manhattan.

The city-funded program allows Wu and her husband to work after the regular school day ends. But the family was recently shut out of the organization’s summer initiative due to high demand but insufficient staff.

“I don’t know what should I do,” said Wu, who is considering quitting her job to care for her children this summer if she cannot find affordable care. “We have to find another program, but we have to pay for it.”

Another organization, University Settlement, paused all programming other than care for babies and essential mental health programs. A rep for the group said about 4,000 people did not benefit from teen centers, case management, college advising for immigrant and first-generation families and other services they would have otherwise received.

“We have closed so many of our programs today to show what would happen to this city,” said Melissa Aase, chief executive officer of University Settlement. “We need the mayor to understand what it means if we were not here.”

Councilwoman Althea Stevens (D-Bronx), who heads the youth services committee and worked at nonprofits for more than 20 years, criticized the city for not investing more in the sector. She told the Daily News that while the city has blamed belt-tightening on costly services for asylum seekers, the programs run by nonprofits would help support that work.

“There are places in the budget we can tighten up on, but this is not one of them,” Stevens said, “because these are the same people we’re going to go back and ask to help the asylum seekers.”

Mayoral spokesman Jonah Allon pointed to baselined contract adjustments in last year’s budget and more than $4 billion paid out to providers in a push to clear a backlog in reimbursements.

“This administration has made unprecedented investments in our city’s human services providers, who do invaluable work for our communities each and every day,” he said. “We will evaluate additional funding proposals through the budget process.”

A final city budget is due by July 1.

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