City Hall is preparing to announce a proposal to cut as many as 17,000 subsidized child care slots, with city sources telling NBC New York there's at least a $70 million dollar shortfall in New York City's child care budget this year.
All of Mayor Bloomberg's budget ideas are just proposals at this point, and will be negotiated with the City Council until a final spending plan is adopted in June. He presents his budget plan on Thursday.
Parents who depend on subsidized child care worry cuts could be devastating.
"Well if I have nobody to watch my child, I'm not going to be able to go to work. I won't be able to provide for my family, so that's a big thing," said Robertha Wegman of Brooklyn. Wegman's four year old daughter Zenia attends the Duffield Child Care Center in downtown Brooklyn.
After a scary period of unemployment, Wegman is back on her feet with a full time job at Macy's. She contributes $62 dollars a week toward the cost of her child care. The government pays the rest, because Wegman is considered low income.
City sources say federal stimulus dollars have evaporated and the cost of rent and employee health insurance has skyrocketed, chipping away at the child care budget.
Parents most likely to lose child care are those who have had it the longest, sources familiar with the plan said.
Some of the cut will be to slots in child care centers, and the rest will involve child care vouchers, given to parents to use either in centers or to pay for less formal babysitting services or child care operated out of someone's home.
There is worry that the elimination of subsidized child care could lead to an increase in unemployment as parents are forced to leave their jobs and end up on public assistance. The city will end up then paying child care costs on top of public assistance, as public assistance recipients are entitled to child care.
"I won't have any money at all. I'll be unemployed like the rest of the thousands of people out there," Wegman said.
At the Duffield Center, Director Douglas Brooks tells NBCNewYork that 95 percent of his families work.
"They may be poor but they're trying to do the right thing. They're trying to support their children," he said. "This child care proposal goes against what strong family values are really about."
Critics of the plan also say that cash-strapped parents seeking to avoid quitting their jobs could resort to unsafe, unlicensed child care arrangements with no educational component. A large number of the slots eliminated would be in early education programs for preschoolers that help prepare them for public school.
Child care experts say cutting 17,000 slots amounts to about 30 percent of the ACS funded child care system.
"I am shocked," said Councilwoman Letitia James. "It will destroy the entire system as we know it, and you are basically eliminating early childhood education for poor people."
A spokesman for Mayor Bloomberg said there would be no comment on the child care cuts until the mayor announces his budget plan on Thursday.