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.
We thank County Executive George Latimer for proposing a 2% increase in the subsidy reimbursement rate to contracted child care providers and the Board of Legislators for reducing the parent co-pay from 25% to 23%.
We also want to recognize the Westchester County Department of Social Services (DSS) for taking advantage of every opportunity to reduce child care costs for parents and help sustain child care programs. 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. We cannot thank them enough.
Over the summer, DSS provided the Council and consultant Grace Reef of the Early Learning Policy Group, LLC, with data to help us better understand child care needs in Westchester. Our new 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 that would strengthen our child care system.
To view Access to Child Care: The Key to Economic Recovery in Westchester, click here.
The Council is relaying some of the key report findings via social media so please visit us on Facebook and LinkedIn. We will present the report including a request for additional child care investment in our first Westchester Child Care Advocacy Hour on Thursday, October 28th from noon to 1 pm. Please register for this virtual event here.
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 will go to 10% of income over the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), throughout the state
- The income eligibility cap for the low income subsidy will be set at 200% FPL, again, across NYS
The Council had 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. We held in-person and virtual meetings with key members of the Westchester state delegation including 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. 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. Those additional funds did not make it into the enacted NYS budget. However, both the 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 did pass another bill to allow social services districts to raise child care subsidy eligibility up to 85% State Median Income, as allowed federally. This bill would significantly impact Westchester County where the high cost of living and of child care make it impossible for many families over the current cut-off of 200% FPL to afford care.
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 making great progress on child care during Governor Hochul’s administration.
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 up by additional funding in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. President Biden’s American Families Plan 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 the wages for the child care workforce. Although passage of the American Families Plan has been delayed, we are hopeful that there will be substantial child care investment in whatever legislative package secures enough votes.
To see the American Rescue 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
New 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.