NYC Allocates Record $17 Million for Afterschool Vouchers

NEW YORK -

The New York City budget deal announced Monday allocates $17 million for the Priority 5 after-school vouchers, an all-time high, according to a pair of lawmakers who advocated for the program that benefits thousands of Orthodox families.

Councilmen David Greenfield and Stephen Levin, both Brooklyn Democrats, said on Tuesday that when the City Council passes the budget later this week, it will include $17 million for the voucher program, which last year was only funded with $10 million.

“This is the largest amount of money that we have secured for after-school vouchers since I was elected to the Council over five years ago,” Greenfield said.

“This budget,” Levin said, “will not only restore previous cuts, it will also enhance this vital program and help thousands of families make ends meet.”

Greenfield sits on the budget negotiating team and Levin is the chair of the General Welfare Committee which oversees the program.

Even better for the families who receive the voucher, for the first time ever, it was an integral part of the budget itself, rather than something to be argued anew each year.

Only $12.6 million is permanent; not the entire $17 million.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, who as a city councilman representing parts of Boro Park took part in sit-ins and protests when ex-Mayor Michael Bloomberg cut the voucher program in 2010, fulfilled his campaign promise on Monday night to make the program permanent.

The mayor had wanted $12.6 million for the voucher program that aids two-income families who still struggle financially. But Greenfield and Levin pushed for $17 million.

Until now, the budget itself was approved, but the voucher was included in a separate pot of money which allocated funds to various constituencies or communities. The latter group was part of what de Blasio referred to as the “budget dance,” in which the mayor and council faced off in funding certain projects by threatening to defund others.

By “baselining” Priority 5, de Blasio makes it permanent.

After-school vouchers are given to large families for supervised extracurricular activities on a sliding scale. Families under social service supervision are given higher priority, but many Orthodox families have qualified for some of the other priorities.

For example, Priority 5 benefits families where both parents work at least 20 hours a week but are within poverty guidelines. Priority 7 is for those with significant needs, such as large families, where only one parent works. That last grouping has not been funded in recent years, although it receives any money left over after the other priorities are funded.

One item left out of the budget is a bill sponsored by Greenfield to make private schools such as yeshivos eligible for school safety agents upon request. The councilman said he intends to push for a vote separate from the budget.