Public Policy and Advocacy Update
Child care became a big news story in 2020, its value incalculable to first responders and essential workers who took care of everyone else during the pandemic.
Across the nation and in Westchester, child care programs suffered – some closing, others losing enrollment while at the same time incurring higher costs due to smaller group sizes and the need for PPE, intensive cleaning, and equipment/materials needed for social distancing.
Federal funding for child care reached unprecedented levels. The CARES Act brought $164 million to New York in 2020, with more aid to follow – the Consolidated Appropriations Act ($464 million for NYS) and the American Rescue Plan ($1.8 billion for NYS).
This recognition that a robust and steady economic recovery may depend on parents’ ability to access safe, quality child care is welcome. These new investments in child care present a once in a lifetime opportunity to open up access and stabilize the infrastructure of this industry on which so much depends.
The pandemic made it impossible for the Council to bring its child care advocacy on the road, but both staff and Board members testified at every opportunity, calling for more child care investment.
County Executive George Latimer proposed a 2% increase in the subsidy reimbursement rate to contracted child care providers; the Board of Legislators reduced the parent co-pay from 25% to 23%. In their respective announcements on the passage of the 2021 budget, both the administration and the legislature stressed that child care was a priority and of top importance to the community.
All year long, Westchester County Department of Social Services (DSS) took advantage of every opportunity to reduce child care costs for parents and provide child care businesses with on-going revenue. DSS obtained waivers from the NYS Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) to suspend the parent co-pay, to raise income eligibility from 200% of the Federal Poverty Level to 85% State Median Income and to reimburse providers for closings and absences. Few counties were as aggressive as Westchester in trying to mitigate the devastating effects of the pandemic on child care customers and businesses.
New York State
Despite statewide advocates calling for Governor Cuomo to significantly increase state spending, his budget proposed level funding and a promise to use unspent federal aid to lower the parent share and address some child care deserts.
The Council joined with the Empire State Campaign for Child Care to advocate for $485 million in new child care aid, and for the NYS Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) to deploy the anticipated additional federal assistance for child care strategically and expediently, by allocating substantial portions to its network of departments of social services. The Council staff and board asked Westchester’s state delegation to make child care a priority, organizing virtual meetings with Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Sen. Shelley Mayer, Sen. Peter Harckham, the staff of Sen. Elijah Reichlin-Melnick, Assemblywoman Amy Paulin and Assemblyman Chris Burdick with members of the area child care and after school community. Senators Mayer and Harckham, joined by County Legislator Kitley Covill, held a press conference at the Mt Kisco Child Care Center in strong support of the $485 million request and a more effective plan for the federal child care aid.
As of this writing, the NYS budget is in the final stages of negotiation.
To see the Empire State Campaign for Child Care & Winning Beginning NY Budget Proposal for the 2021-2022 budget click here.
Child care gained new visibility as part of the infrastructure needed to bring the U.S. economy back. It was featured in the Consolidated Appropriations of 2021, bringing $469 million to NYS, and in the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, worth an expected $1.8 billion to New York.
The inclusion of child care in the stimulus bills was critical, but the sector needs long-term investment in order to effectively open up access, offer decent compensation to the child care workforce, and bolster quality. The Biden Administration’s Build Back Better economic package, which will be announced later this week, is expected to include additional child care investments for universal pre-kindergarten, child care tax credits, child care and after school subsidies and more. The rationale for this funding – the loss of over 2.3 million from the labor force during the pandemic, and a 57% participation rate of women in the workforce, the lowest it has been since 1988.
To see the CLASP report on how the American Rescue Plan funding for child care might be used click here.