A Hasidic rabbi’s little-known childcare network has stoked tensions throughout New York City by beating out scores of well-established groups to win a huge contract for subsidized day care programs.
The network, called B’Above Worldwide Institute, is set to receive contracts worth roughly $31 million annually for 3,000 children at 42 day care centers under New York City’s newly reorganized subsidized child care system. That’s 1,000 more children than will be served by the city’s next-largest subsidized child care network. All this for an organization that many in the field say they had never heard of a month ago.
B’Above said that only half of its new seats will serve Jewish children. And other Jewish-run groups have operated subsidized child care programs in non-Jewish communities. But B’Above’s contract is unprecedented in its size, and many of the centers it will run will replace longstanding neighborhood organizations, upsetting delicate political balances and infuriating elected officials representing both Jewish and non-Jewish neighborhoods.
“I don’t know B’Above,” said New York City Councilwoman Letitia James, who represents a Brooklyn district. “They’re certainly not familiar to me at all.” Of some local organizations that had not received funding, James said: “They know the children, they know the neighborhood. Some of these local, community-based organizations have been in existence for over 40 years.”
The city’s reorganization of its subsidized child care system comes as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg pushes for heavy cuts to these types of programs. City officials have touted the reorganized childcare program, called EarlyLearn NYC, as a more streamlined way to allocate funds for childcare for low-income families. But the program also cuts the total number of childcare slots provided by the city.
Childcare providers currently offering government-subsidized Head Start and other programs were required to reapply for funding through the EarlyLearn program. Advocates and elected officials say that longstanding local programs throughout the city lost out.
Citywide networks fared better than local childcare centers in the allocation process. Groups like Lutheran Social Services of New York, Episcopal Social Services of New York and Catholic Charities Neighborhood Services Inc. received thousands of placements.
Unlike many of the large childcare networks, B’Above does not file annual financial disclosure documents with the Internal Revenue Service, due to its official status as a religious corporation.
When asked under what religion B’Above had received its religious exemption, the organization’s director, Rabbi Eliezer Vogel, said: “We’re Jewish faith.” Then he backtracked: “Our belief really is to serve the most neediest families.”
Some of the largest networks of childcare centers are affiliated with religious Jewish communities. Besides B’Above, three Jewish-linked networks were among the top fifteen networks in terms of the number of slots they were awarded. Many of their slots were awarded in Orthodox Brooklyn neighborhoods.