A meeting convened by Agudath Israel of America on June 2 brought together city government officials and administrators of yeshivos throughout New York City to discuss the proposed elimination of a city program than benefits needy parents in the city’s Orthodox community to the tune of over $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. Now, however, Priority 7 is slated for the dustbin, essentially eliminated from Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed budget.
Agudath Israel called the meeting to apprise school administrators of the looming threat of Priority 7’s elimination; to discuss the issue with them and with members of the City Council and their representatives; and to formulate strategies for seeking to head off the crisis. Nearly 100 principals and administrators were in attendance.
Councilmembers Bill De Blasio and Simcha Felder were present as well and addressed the crowd, as did Agudath Israel’s executive vice president, Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel; Agudath Israel’s vice president for community affairs, Rabbi Shmuel Lefkowitz; and Rabbi Yeruchim Shapiro, the principal of Bais Yaakov of Borough Park. Also present
were representatives of New York City Comptroller William C. Thompson, Assemblyman Dov Hikind and Councilmembers David I. Weprin and David Yassky.
At the meeting, Agudath Israel distributed to the yeshiva administrators copies of letters intended to be shared with parents of their students. The letters, addressed to Mayor Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, respectfully but strongly object to the planned elimination of Priority 7. The goal, Rabbi Lefkowitz said, is to deliver thousands of the missives to the city officials.
Other strategic options discussed included a face-to-face meeting with the Mayor and he possibility of a rally at City Hall.
Said Rabbi Zwiebel: “We hope that if we bring the Mayor’s and Speaker’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.”
“This issue is urgent,” he continued. The budget is likely to be finalized in the next weeks. And so it is imperative that if we are going to mobilize a grass-roots effort to let the Mayor and Speaker know how much this will hurt our community – and how unfair it is – we do it now.”