This post was written by Blue Carreker is a Statewide Campaign Manager for Citizen Action of New York and a founding member of the Empire State Campaign for Childcare (ESCCC) as part of our PowHer the Vote 2017 campaign.
New Yorkers have been working hard together to grow our economy, and put people back to work. Responding to statewide movements, our leaders have recently enacted one of the most generous paid family leave programs in the country, raised the minimum wage for most workers, and begun the expansion of publicly-funded Pre-K for 3 and 4 year olds. Through these initiatives, we have begun to address our state’s unacceptably high wealth disparity and longstanding problems of discrimination based on sex, gender, and race. But we will not be able to continue this progress if our state does not address the growing number of families without access to affordable, quality child care.
Cheray is the single mother of two girls, ages one and seven. Working part time, she felt extremely lucky to not only qualify, but to actually receive a partial subsidy to help pay for child care at a licensed, quality facility. But Cheray wanted to do better for herself and her family. She sought and was excited when she finally gained full time hours. Imagine her surprise when she discovered that her expanded hours now put her just $346 over the annual income threshold for a subsidy. As Cheray explained, “the cost without a subsidy to provide childcare for my two children was $1400 per month… With what I was earning, after paying childcare costs and basic monthly expenses like rent and heat, I would be left with only $23; twenty-three dollars cannot buy food, diapers, wipes and those basic items for a week, let alone a month!”
Cheray’s situation is far from rare. We must not forget to follow the impact of our new progressive policies and make adjustments when critical services are impacted. But the lack of access to affordable, quality child care is not just an issue for struggling families. Even middle class, two parent families are struggling to pay for child care costs that today rival college tuition (center-based care averages $14,000 a year for infants, and $11,000 for toddlers and pre-school age children). While most New Yorkers would agree that all children need and deserve to be cared for in a safe, healthy and nurturing environment, every year more children are instead being shuffled from friend to relative, and being moved in and out of child care centers, by frustrated parents defeated by a system that no longer meets their needs. Meanwhile, the men and women we depend on to feed, clean, hug and teach our youngest children barely earn enough to sustain their own families. (The Early Childcare Workforce Index of 2016 reported that fifty-nine percent of the 78,000 New Yorkers employed in the child care industry are eligible for some form of public assistance.)
American history shows us that we can provide quality care to all children if we have the will. In World War II, when the nation determined that women were needed in the factories, we established a national child care program. In 1989, when our military services wanted to ensure a reliable, effective, integrated military force, they created and funded the best child care system in the country.
Local elected leaders could be some of the most informed and powerful advocates for child care – and many are. New York State funds for child care subsidies are distributed through the counties. Each county makes decisions about how that money will be distributed, and sets local guidelines regarding co-pays and eligibility. Many County Commissioners keep records of the larger and larger lists of families who quality for assistance but are left to fend for themselves when that money runs out. Mayors, city and town council members, and county legislators can help collect and bring to the state the stories of families trying in vain to find quality care; and talk about the positive impact of available, quality child care on economic development and job creation.
Perhaps more than any other elected official, our county electeds are familiar with the real impact of our children and families and should be urged to join with us in demanding state attention and solutions.
Ask your local government candidates if they support increasing state investments in child care; and if they believe the provision of quality child care is an essential part of economic development. Ask them if they are willing to participate in efforts to create a statewide system that guarantees universal access to quality, affordable care for all children, and to address the long standing shortage of quality care options for low income, black and brown, dual language and disabled children.