Brooklyn — Yesterday, in a tense hearing of the New York City Council’s General Welfare Committee, Councilman David G. Greenfield demanded answers from Administration for Children’s Services (“ACS”) Commissioner John Mattingly as the agency plans on cutting nearly 17,000 childcare slots from Priorities 5 & 6 and millions of dollars worth of child protective services.
“I am a little perplexed,” said Greenfield. “Why would your agency cut funding that is actually making the city money?” Greenfield was referring to the proposed $7 million cut to preventive services, for which ACS receives a nearly 2 to 1 match by the state for each dollar the city spends, resulting in a roughly $30 million cut to the program. “I’m not a fiscal expert,” pressed Greenfield, “but, that doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it?” Commissioner Mattingly replied that the agency had run out of places to trim the budget and, in order to close the agency’s deficit, preventive services would have to be cut.
ACS’ proposed cuts to child care will disproportionately impact minority communities, including the Orthodox Jewish community. When the cuts are laid out by Council District, Council Members Greenfield, Steve Levin and Brad Lander’s respective districts all land in the top ten districts cut.
“I was like the canary in the coal mine,” said a frustrated Councilman Greenfield to Commissioner Mattingly. “I sat here last year when Priority 7 was threatened and said publicly that first it was Priority 7, but next it would be Priorities 5 and 6. No one believed me, but here we are with close to 17,000 child care slots on the chopping block. In the Council we have some tools at our disposal to fight these cuts, but I have to ask, Commissioner, what do you do to try to prevent these losses?”
When pressed by Greenfield to identify someone in the administration to be held accountable for the deep, annual cuts to the child welfare budget, Commissioner Mattingly declined to discuss his conversation with the administration, including Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs and Budget Director Mark Page. An outraged Council Finance Chair Domenic M. Recchia, Jr. interrupted Councilman Greenfield’s questioning to declare that if Commissioner Mattingly refused to provide answers the Council would call Deputy Mayor Gibbs and Mr. Page to testify because “these conversations are not privileged.” Commissioner Mattingly then insisted that the decision on how much to eliminate from each agency’s budget is a decision “for a Mayor” to make.
In light of yesterday’s indictment of two of Mattingly’s former employees for homicide due to their negligence in overseeing 4 year old Marchella Pierce who was abused and murdered, Greenfield was also not satisfied with the Commissioner’s answers. Greenfield responded by highlighting Brooklyn District Attorney Joe Hynes’ commencement of a grand jury investigation into ACS, in addition to the charges against the two former ACS employees.
Greenfield then asked the Commissioner, “What is the value of a child’s life?” Despite the Commissioner’s protests, Greenfield continued, “We need a Commissioner who is willing to go to the mat for our children. We need someone to fight to protect our kids.” Greenfield further explained that the administration’s continued cuts to children’s services placed too low of a price on the lives of our kids. The Commissioner tried to defend the administration by highlighting spending in another agency: education. “Education spending is great,” responded Greenfield, “if kids are alive to benefit from it.”
The Commissioner responded to Greenfield by finally taking responsibility for the death of four year old Marchella Pierce who was under his agency’s watch. “Now that’s my fault,” the Commissioner concluded.
Following yesterday’s hearing, Mayor Bloomberg defended his ACS Commissioner by stating, “I have 100% percent confidence in John Mattingly.” The Mayor went on to declare that Mr. Mattingly would continue to manage ACS despite the swirling criminal investigations into the agency and its staff.
(YWN Desk – NYC)