Letters from 30,000 Orthodox Jewish parents were delivered by Agudath Israel community activists to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg this afternoon. The missives make the case for preserving a city program than benefits needy parents, the large majority of them in the city’s Orthodox community, to the tune of approximately $15 million a year. The program provides child care vouchers to parents of school-age children if certain criteria are met. Under “Priority 7” of the program, vouchers are provided to families where one parent is working full time and the other faces a substantial degree of social difficulty without child care assistance.
With its often large families and particular financial challenges, the city’s Orthodox community has been the main beneficiary of the Priority 7 category. Some 2000 child care vouchers, worth approximately $15 million dollars to their recipients, have been distributed yearly to parents in heavily Orthodox parts of New York. Mr. Bloomberg’s proposed budget would eliminate Priority 7, prompting the outpouring of concern.
Joining the Agudath Israel activists and leaders on the steps of City Hall were City Councilmembers Bill de Blasio, Simcha Felder, Lewis A. Fidler, Melinda R. Katz, Michael C. Nelson, David I. Weprin and David Yassky.
“This is not a protest,” said Agudath Israel of America vice president for community affairs Rabbi Shmuel Lefkowitz. “It is a simple – and unprecedented – demonstration of how much this program means to our community, and a plea to the Mayor that he reconsider.”
Added Rabbi David Zwiebel, the organization’s executive vice president: “We hope that if we bring City Hall’s attention to the fact that the elimination of Priority 7 will have a disproportionate effect on a particular segment of the city’s population – us – they will reconsider and find a way to let whatever cuts are absolutely necessary be distributed fairly among all priority groups.”
In 2002, Priority 7 was also endangered, and Mayor Bloomberg, noting the disproportionate effect removing the priority would have, rescinded the proposed elimination.
At that time he said “I’ve said repeatedly that New Yorkers need to share the pain of budget cuts, but that the pain shouldn’t fall on anyone or any group unfairly.”