Testimony: Proposed Budget Cuts Would Directly Affect Children

Children's Health Fund CEO Arturo Brito provided testimony to the New York City Council on the Fiscal Year 2025 Preliminary Budget on 3/11/2024.

Good morning, members of the committee, and thank you for the opportunity to speak with you. I am Arturo Brito, president and chief executive officer of Children’s Health Fund (CHF). I am also a community pediatrician.

At CHF, we lead a national network to bring comprehensive healthcare to children growing up in under-resourced communities and advocate for the health and well-being of all children. Based in New York City, our national network includes 24 programs in 15 states; Washington, D.C.; and Puerto Rico. Our network provides quality medical, dental, mental, and social services through a fleet of more than 50 mobile medical clinics, telehealth, and at more than 400 schools, homeless shelters, and other community sites. Since its beginnings in 1987, CHF’s national network providers have had 7 million health encounters. Four of five children seen by our national network partners are Black or brown. All are living in low-income households.

As part of our mission, we translate lessons learned on the ground into informed policy. In our more than 36 years of service, we have a long list of advocacy successes, such as being part of the national effort around the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) which has led to more than 7 million children having health insurance since 1997, including nearly 600,000 in the state of New York. More recently and in New York, we have been part of efforts to allow school reimbursement for comprehensive Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic, and Treatment (EPSDT) services for Medicaid-enrolled students. Now under the direction of our vice president of policy and advocacy, Pernell Brice, we are the lead convener of the Coalition for Healthy Students – New York State (CHS-NYS), a group of child welfare organizations that raise awareness and support for school-based Medicaid expansion in New York State (NYS).

As a community pediatrician with a population health focus, I am gravely concerned with the proposed funding of $1.67 billion cuts in the city’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2025 Preliminary Budget, and its impact on children. At a time where New York City is experiencing rising food insecurity, a growing youth mental health crisis, and students still recovering from learning loss as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, continued investments are critical toward ensuring child and youth development and school readiness, so children can thrive in our great city. The Program to Eliminate the Gap (PEG) cuts across state agencies and will therefore have a devastating impact on our most vulnerable communities.

While we understand Mayor Adams’ challenging task in managing the migrant crisis and we applaud him for reversing course on some programming cuts to Community Schools and Libraries in the Preliminary budget, we remain concerned about the extensive cuts that remain across several agencies that directly affect children. Funding disinvestments that are particularly concerning, include:

  • $221 million reduction from the early care and education system;
  • $50 million reduction in FY25 and outyears for Early Childhood Efficiencies in the
    Department of Education (DOE);
  • $9.5 million reduction in FY25 and outyears for Child Care Claiming in the Administration
    for Children Service (ACS);
  • $1.3 million reduction in FY25 and outyears to eliminate the Behavioral Health Unit at the
    Department of Probation (DOP);
  • $700,000 reduction in FY25 and outyears for cancellation of the Impact Program, a
    program for adolescents who are primarily sentenced to probation through Adult Criminal
    Court; and
  • $600,000 reduction in FY25 for the Arches Re-Estimate, a mentorship program for
    young people.

Today, I would also like to speak about the importance of continued and increased funding for programming that critically supports schools and parents in ensuring that students are well positioned to thrive in school like our New York City Council funded program, Healthy and Ready to Learn (HRL).

HRL was developed by Children’s Health Fund in 2014 as a part of our mission of supporting kids so they can thrive. It was developed recognizing the importance of education in helping kids to reach their potential, and that they need to be their healthiest selves to take advantage of educational opportunities. The program is designed to help schools identify and address health issues (many rooted in social, racial, and economic inequities) that impact student learning. When students have their health needs met (ie., can see the board, hear their teacher, focus on schoolwork, and so on) they are more likely to learn and succeed in school; ultimately, translating into a greater likelihood of a productive and happy life. HRL started with a strong focus on screening and responding to what we call health barriers to learning, such as addressing medical issues like asthma, dental concerns, vision problems, and mental well-being. While we continue to address these health barriers to learning, we are focused more and more on a growing and worrisome need: childhood trauma. HRL, therefore, has evolved to include supporting trauma sensitive school and home environments to better address the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and surrounding social issues like increases in overt racism and violence.

Through our current model, we leverage findings from our flagship school, PS 49 in the Bronx and in Councilwoman Diana Ayala’s district (D-8), to inform materials and trainings that we conduct with educators and parents citywide and through our Resource and Training Center (RTC). Launched in 2017, RTC is an online platform that enables Children’s Health Fund to scale our impact to reach students throughout New York City. Our online repository is equity and diversity focused and houses a broad library that includes infographics, fact sheets, interactive learning images, slide decks, external resource links. Here is a snapshot of RTC’s and HRL’s impact:

  • Since 2017, nearly 44,000 users have accessed the website to request training curricula, view recorded workshops, and download free materials to support their health and education work.
  • In FY 2023, our most recent, complete NYCC grant year, the RTC had 5,893 users.
  • From January 2023 to the present, we trained in 27 schools in 18 districts—delivering 69
    parent workshops, 10 student workshops, and 4 professional development workshops—reaching 2,276 individuals.
    Our impact is clear and the demand for our programming continues to increase. To meet the growing need in our most vulnerable communities, our FY25 goals include the following:
  • Expand into additional NYC school districts where teachers and parents need us most;
  • Build more partnerships with non-profit organizations focused on early childhood care
    and education;
  • Respond to the needs of communities most impacted by the ongoing migrant crisis;
  • Increase and tailor our training to continue to meet specific needs of teachers and
    schools; and
  • Communicate our efforts through social and traditional media, community outreach, and
    translating educational materials into multiple languages.

For these reasons, Children’s Health Fund urges the New York City Council and the Mayor to include funding to secure critical investments for early childhood learning, mental health programming, and our Healthy and Ready to Learn initiative. These actions will expand access for thousands more students throughout the city, giving them the best chance of succeeding in school and life.

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