Why Are So Many Migrant Kids Selling Candy In NYC? Lack Of Child Care, Survey Says.

Why Are So Many Migrant Kids Selling Candy In NYC? Lack Of Child Care, Survey Says.

By Arya Sundaram | Gothamist

The vast majority of migrant vendors with children — often seen peddling fruit cups and candy on the subway — say they are unable to get other work because of a lack of child care, according to a new survey across New York City.

Slightly more than 8 in 10 migrant vendors with children told volunteers with the aid group Algun Día that they lacked sufficient child care, the survey found. More than a third of the 75 vendors surveyed were women under the age of 25 and 75% were from Ecuador. Another 17% were men, many of them single fathers.

Nearly all of the respondents, 93%, said they hadn’t been assisted by any organization, and less than a third lived in city shelters. Algun Día volunteers surveyed migrant vendors with children from March 31 to May 31.

“Even when programs do exist, they’re not being told about them,” said Liza Schwartzwald, director of economic justice and family empowerment at the nonprofit New York Immigration Coalition, which funds Algun Día. “Nobody is getting to this particular population.”

Launched earlier this year, Algun Día is a group of about 20 bilingual, volunteer social workers who regularly take to the streets to canvas migrant street vendors with children and connect them to child care, legal help and other social services.

The survey results illuminate what immigrant advocates say is a pressing and underrecognized need for migrants and a barrier to their getting better jobs. The findings come as city councilmembers and others press Mayor Eric Adams’ administration for more funding for child care programs, including for new migrants.

Adams and other local officials have also for months urged the Biden administration to do more to speed up the processing of work permits for asylum-seekers. Some of the migrant vendors surveyed had work permits but still lacked child care, according to Algun Día leaders.

Immigrant advocates have been calling for new funding for Promise NYC, a local child care program launched last year for migrants who may be ineligible for other government-funded child care options due to their immigration status. City funding for Promise NYC is set to expire at the end of the month.

“Promise NYC is literally a lifeline for families at this point,” said Monica Sibiri, one of Algun Día’s founders and leaders. “And these are families that are on the brink of losing everything. The little they have is just their family together.”

Many migrant parents are unable to bring their children with them to jobs as house cleaners, restaurant workers and car washers, Sibiri said. And they aren’t allowed to leave their children alone at city shelters while they work elsewhere, she added.

Kayla Mamelak, a mayoral spokesperson, said the administration has ramped up its efforts to ensure migrant children vending on subways are enrolled in schools and has reduced the cost of city-funded child care programs from $55 to $5 a week.

“Our administration is working tirelessly to reduce costs and make child care more accessible to all New Yorkers, regardless of how long they’ve been in our city,” Mamelak said in a statement.

Shaina Coronel, a spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, previously told Gothamist that the NYPD was taking an “education-first approach” toward migrant family vendors. That includes handing out informational flyers with links to resources like child care and legal help, she said.

City Hall officials have also consulted with Algun Día in recent months about the city’s policies regarding migrant family vendors.

Child care has been a main flashpoint in budget negotiations between the City Council and Adams ahead of the deadline to finalize the city budget at the end of the month. Councilmembers have declared child care a top priority for extra city dollars and requested more seats for city-funded pre-K programs.

In its own budget proposals and rallies as recently as Thursday morning, the Council has called for the renewal of Promise NYC and a funding increase as well, from $16 million to $25 million.

Adams did not include funding for Promise NYC in his proposed executive budget for the fiscal year that starts on July 1. He also excluded the program from his budget last year, before it was renewed and its budget raised.

Mamelak, the spokesperson for Adams, would not comment on the funding requests for Promise NYC. The program currently serves 683 children, according to the Administration for Children’s Services, the city agency that runs it. It’s been at capacity since April of last year, just a few months after it launched.

Asylum-seekers are also eligible for the city-funded pre-K programs that typically conclude around 2:30 p.m. and federally funded Head Start programs.

But other free government-funded child care — including ACS child care vouchers and extended hours for pre-K programs — have tight immigration restrictions that bar many asylum-seekers, said Schwartzwald from the New York Immigration Coalition.

“There’s not another program that could replace Promise New York City,” she said.

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