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Child Care Cuts a Body Blow to New York's Working Parents

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Onaida Ruiz is tossing and turning at night. Let's take a look at the reason.

The Manhattan mother of three, who makes ends meet with a full-time job at an insurance company, is watching her hard-working but orderly life turn upside down because of a footnote in Mayor Bloomberg's proposed budget.

It calls for the elimination of day care subsidies for 16,462 children of low-income working families. One of the kids is Ruiz's infant daughter.

'"I'm at the point now where I'm about to panic, because I have no other means of supporting my children, I'm a single parent," she said. "It's going to be very hard for me to continue working. I wake up in the morning with a headache because I don't know what to do."

Subsidized child care has very few advocates within the tangled world of New York City politics. Cut senior citizen centers or libraries or - God forbid - a firehouse, and the City Council will hear shrieks from their district. Child care, not so much.

The city's already cut 14,000 subsidies in budgets past, to no notable outcry. New York is legally obliged to provide child care for families who are trying to move from public assistance to work. But people like Ruiz, who's gone from work to work, get no special protection.

"I'm really stressed out," Ruiz said. "I can't afford day care, and I can't afford to leave my job."

This is a particularly cruel kind of cut, one that falls hardest on the people who've been trying hardest. It's particularly tough on struggling single mothers, and it targets exactly the kind of children who need extra preparation before going to public school.

I'm old enough to remember the rage against welfare moms, and the bitter claims that the government helped people who weren't working hard and playing by the rules. That critique was never fair. But it's still ironic that those very hard-working, rules-playing-by parents are now the ones getting the shaft.

Corinthia Carter has four children, including a 4-year-old boy in daycare. Her husband works, and the Brooklyn mom holds down a part-time clerical job while going to school and working toward her dream of becoming a lawyer. But her plans have been upended by a letter from the city indicating her son from the city.

"I have no clue to what I will do," she said. Daycare in her neighborhood would cost about $1,200 a month, but there is no way she and her husband can come up with that kind of money.

"It's a shame," she said. "My two oldest sons had daycare, and it definitely helped them educationally. It's not just babysitting."

Without the subsidized child care program, some families will struggle along, their lives more chaotic but otherwise unchanged. A great many others, especially the single moms, will leave their children with neighbors or relatives and spend their working days worrying about what's happening back home. Others will give up the fight.

"Most of these parents are low-income working woman," said Allison Sesso of the Human Services Council: "At some point, economically, it doesn't make sense for them to go to work. And even if they can scrape together the money for child care, it's going to mean serious cuts in other parts of their limited budgets."

The city says the day care cuts were prompted by reductions in state and federal aid, together with the increasing cost of child care. Nevertheless, this cut seems self-defeating.

These are some of New York's best families - enterprising, determined, concerned about their children's welfare. The helping hand they're getting is modest - in many cases just after-school programs to keep the kids safe and busy until their parent comes home from work. In a sane country, we'd make that available to everybody.