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By Mary Stalker

We are just weeks away from the “fiscal cliff.” Should we go over the cliff there will be an increase in taxes and a decrease in spending. The decrease in spending is what has the human services community very concerned. The closer we get, the louder the cacophony of outrage and demands becomes. Those who will fall the hardest, however, are ignoring the situation, not paying one bit of attention. They are entirely too busy napping, snacking and smushing Play-Doh.

New Yorkers are in serious danger of losing supports that are essential to our economy and our long-term success. According to a July report issued by Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, “Under Threat: Sequestration’s Impact on Nondefense Jobs and Services,” more than 6,000 fewer children would be served through Head Start, more than 1,200 Head Start employees would lose their jobs and more than 6,000 fewer children would receive child care subsidies.

The unfortunate reality is that there are many sectors of vulnerable populations. When children lose services, however, the effect is three-fold. The most immediate is to the children themselves.

Ideally, children should be in high-quality environments, but even a child care program that is meeting minimum standards is better than a patchwork of unreliable and unregulated care that puts a child’s safety and sense of security and comfort at risk.

The second layer of effect is to the parents. Balancing work and parenthood is a challenge for even the most compensated in the workforce. For parents who are struggling to make ends meet and working in jobs with little job security, losing child care assistance can mean losing a job or making sacrifices like heat, electricity and regular meals. The long-term impacts can be devastating for vulnerable children and families.

The third layer of effect is to society. In order for New York to build a stronger economy, it is imperative that we care for and educate our young children. Children who engage in high-quality early care and education are less likely to repeat grades, need special education, drop out of school or be incarcerated. There are multiple cost-saving results of investments in the young, but perhaps the greatest outcome is a well-prepared competitive future workforce.

In order to entice new industries and businesses to New York, we have to have something to offer: our human capital. If we continue to shortchange our children and sit back while other states invest in theirs, we might as well hang out the “closed for business” sign now.

We are approaching the cliff. We may or may not go over it. But if we do, our children may not survive the fall without a parachute. New York has to be prepared to ensure a soft landing for our children and our future. Are we?

Mary Stalker is the director of communications, research and development at the Early Care & Learning Council.