Public Policy and Advocacy Update
Child care continues to be in the news, its connection to the well-being of children, the ability of parents to return to work, and our economic recovery more significant than ever.
Just as area child care programs were regaining their footing, helped by federal Stabilization Fund Grants via the NYS Office of Children and Family Services and slowly increasing enrollment, the new Omicron variant hit. Once again, child care programs find themselves dealing with children’s absences due to infection. Child care staffing, always a challenge, has become even more difficult, part of a larger shift in the American workforce.
President Biden’s Build Back Better Act, which promises enough additional child care funding to radically improve child care access and quality as well as increase wages for the child care workforce, remained bogged down in Washington.
Locally however, Westchester County stepped up in an historic way to make child care more affordable for many working parents and to help child care businesses survive with fairer reimbursement rates, setting the stage for a much healthier 2022 for all!
Understanding that Westchester was the recipient of over $180 million of American Rescue Plan Act funding, we asked that the County make a significant investment in child care to make many more families eligible for financial assistance. County Executive George Latimer did indeed include our request of an additional $5.6 million in his 2022 Westchester County budget; we received an advance on this news only hours after our “Westchester Child Care Advocacy Hour” featuring Deputy County Executive Ken Jenkins, BOL Chair Ben Boykin, key community and business leaders and an audience of over 250.
To view the Advocacy Hour, click here.
The County Executive’s proposal included $4.1 mil for new Title XX child care subsidy slots and $1.5 mil to bring back the Westchester Child Care Scholarship Program.
As the budget process continued, we asked the Westchester County Board of Legislators (BOL) to consider additional funds to raise subsidy reimbursement rates for contracted providers to NYS Market Rates. We made that case through a letter writing campaign, testimony at the December 8th public budget hearing, and presentations to legislators. The BOL responded by adding $2.5 mil for the rate increase and then another $2.1 mil to bring the total for the Child Care Scholarship Program to $3.6 mil. It was the most amazing advocacy victory for child care!
We attribute the success of this advocacy effort to several factors:
- More data spelling out the extreme need for child care financial assistance in Westchester. Over the summer, Westchester DSS provided the Council and our consultant Grace Reef of the Early Learning Policy Group, LLC, with data to help better understand child care needs in Westchester. Our report, Access to Child Care: The Key to Economic Recovery in Westchester, spells out that there are 114,564 children under 13 years in Westchester whose parents work. A whopping 45,007 or 39% of them are in families with incomes under 400% FPL – meaning that they do not earn enough to meet their basic needs, including child care. This number includes 26,483 children under age 6. The report also includes multiple recommendations for both the county and NYS to strengthen our child care system. This report was the basis of our request for the 2022 Westchester County budget.
To view Access to Child Care: The Key to Economic Recovery in Westchester, click here.
- More robust and diverse participation in our advocacy campaign. We are so grateful to community leaders such as Dr. Marsha Gordon, President/CEO of the Business Council of Westchester; Allison Lake, Executive Director of the Westchester Children’s Association; Jason Chapin, Director of Workforce Development, Westchester County Association; Faith Butcher, Chief Impact Officer, United Way of Westchester and Putnam and leaders in the early care and education community such as Henry Wilson, Executive Director, Y-COP; Sonia Daley, Director of Great Opportunities for Activities and Leadership, Inc.; Bonnie Fogarty, Executive Director, YMCA of Central and Northern Westchester; and Shira Leibowitz, Ph.D., CEO, Discovery Village.
- Executive and Legislative leadership with a track-record of leadership on child care. Both County Executive Latimer and Deputy County Executive Ken Jenkins have demonstrated their commitment to child care over the entirety of their careers in public service. DSS Commissioner Walter Townes and First Deputy Commissioner John Befus have provided consistent support as well. For many members of the BOL, child care has been a high priority issue, and we thank all of the legislators for their support, most notably then Board Chair Ben Boykin and the new Board Chair Catherine Borgia, who chaired the Budget Committee throughout the 2022 process.
New York State
The adopted NYS budget included some good news on child care, but fell far short of expectations given the tremendous amount of new federal funds. Key “wins”:
- The parent share is lowered to 10% of income over the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), throughout the state
- The income eligibility cap for the low income subsidy is set at 200% FPL, statewide
Both the NYS Senate and the Assembly passed bills to extend the Child Care Availability Task Force and a requirement for local departments of social services to pay child care providers via direct deposit. The Senate also passed another bill to allow social services districts to raise child care subsidy eligibility up to 85% State Median Income, as allowed federally. We believe that this bill will pass in the Assembly when the legislature reconvenes in January 2022.
NYS Senator Jabari Brisport, and NYS Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi, chairs of children and family services committees in their respective bodies, visited St Peter’s Child Care Center in October as part of a statewide “child care listening tour”, followed by a virtual town hall that evening. Both legislators are energetically building support for new investment and policy change for child care in 2022. In fact, Sen. Brisport released a report on his child care tour and introduced a new bill, the “Universal Child Care Act” on December 15th. You can view both here: https://www.nysenate.gov/calendar/events/children-and-families/jabari-brisport/december-15-2021/universal-child-care-act
The Empire State Campaign for Child Care (ESCCC), an increasingly robust and vocal group of child care advocates, parents, early childhood professionals, etc., just issued an ambitious NYS 22-23 Executive Budget Ask calling for a series of progressive steps to make child care truly universally accessible and a sustainable business. The Council has been an active participant in the Campaign since its inception and we urge everyone to get involved at http://www.empirestatechildcare.org/
To view the ESCCC Executive Budget Request, click here.
As Lieutenant Governor, Kathy Hochul championed child care throughout the state, particularly in her oversight role with the Regional Economic Development Councils. She was presented with our “Child Advocacy Award” during our 2019 Dream Big gala. Just prior to assuming the Governorship, she visited Dee’s Tots Childcare, speaking with Patrick and Deloris Hogan about their 24/7 child care business. We look forward to the Governor’s “State of the State” address on January 5th and hope to hear more on child care from her at that time.
Child care continued to gain new stature as part of the infrastructure needed to bring the U.S. economy back. The CARES Act funding in 2020 was followed by the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 which delivered over $2.4 bil to NYS in total. President Biden’s Build Back Better Act contains unprecedented levels of funding for early learning including universal preschool for three and four-year-old children, help for parents to keep their child care costs below 7% of family income and increases in child care workforce compensation. After passage in the House, the bill went to the Senate where it remains without the necessary votes to get it through. We await a signal from the Administration and Majority Leader Schumer on the way forward.
To see the child care and prek provisions of the Build Back Better Plan, click here
Other voices continued to call for a transformation of the way the U.S. does child care, including our own Congressman Mondaire Jones. Congressman Jones chose the Lois Bronz Children’s Center to ask for support for passage of the Universal Child Care and Early Learning Act, which he re-introduced in Congress along with Senator Elizabeth Warren. The Congressman observed that “in more than half the states in America, a year of child care costs more than a year of in-state college tuition….If we want a country and an economy that works for all Americans, we need universal child care.”
To see the Universal Childcare is Essential to Women’s Economic Futures Report click here.
WE NEED YOU
Whether you want to lend your voice to our advocacy work or want to volunteer with us in some capacity, we would love to have you join us.
COST OF NOT INVESTING IN QUALITy EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION
Recent report on U.S. child care supply finds that about half the nation does not have an adequate supply of licensed child care. New York is one of the states with the highest percentage, with 64% of parents living in a child care desert. The authors find a link between fewer child care deserts and higher maternal labor force participation. Download here: 2018 Child Care Deserts
keeping up with child care in the news
It is almost impossible to track all the research, reports and opinion pieces on child care and early learning these days. Click here to view the latest resources.