Some say New York’s $2.3 billion child care budget could reboot the system
Cathy Brodeur says the first thing to understand about New York’s 2022 child care budget is that it’s a lot of money. Brodeur directs the Jefferson-Lewis Child Care Project.
“It could really change the whole way that child care is done, it could change the child care system going forward,” she said.
At $2.3 billion, it’s three times the size of the typical budget, which has clocked in around $830 million for the last few years. It’s badly needed. Advocates say the child care sector has been teetering on the edge of collapse this past year, and a lot of these funds will help to simply stabilize the sector.
But there’s also money to expand, change, and enhance child care in the state.
Stabilization grants and how they’re different
Under previous stimulus packages, child care funding was limited and riddled with red tape. This was especially true for operating grants. Child care providers had to spend the money and apply for reimbursement, which was hard for programs already in the red.
“You pay the money out and submit receipts, and they’ll pay you back. A lot of child care programs couldn’t afford to pay that money out,” Brodeur said.
The trouble is, they really needed it, says Jenn O’Connor, the director of policy and advocacy at Prevent Child Abuse NY. She says they heard countless stories of providers desperately taking out lines of credit (a center in Rouses Point in Clinton County had to do just that) and spending their own savings to stay afloat.
“We heard horror stories about providers not being able to pay staff.”
In the new budget, over half of the pot, $1.3 billion, will go directly to child care providers, in the form of up-front stabilization grants. O’Connor says it gives providers the flexibility to use the money for a lot of things.
“Rent, facility maintenance and improvements, mental health supports, and that money can also be used to pay staff and increase wages.”
That money should go a long way in keeping centers open.
Big changes to NY’s child care subsidies
The 2022 budget also includes big changes to how New York gives out child care subsidies to families. Dede Hill is policy director for the Schuyler Center, a family advocacy group based in Albany, but which serves all of New York state. She says the new budget goes a long way to making the state subsidy system more fair and equitable.
That’s because right now, counties have a lot of discretion when it comes to who is eligible for subsidies, and how much they’ll be required to co-pay. Hill compared the guidelines in Franklin and Essex County, here in the North Country.
Imagine a family of three that makes $40,000 a year. Hill says in Franklin County, they qualify for a subsidy. If they move to Essex, they don’t. “And so that family, overnight, could lose their child care subsidy and be facing what could easily be $1,000 a month for one child in care,” explained Hill.
The new budget sets a statewide eligibility standard and maximum co-pay. It means more families can get subsidies, and they will be cheaper. Hill says, “We’re thrilled that there is now going to be uniformity around the state.” And that uniformity should last — when federal funds run out, New York has committed to keeping, and funding, these new rules.
Families still left behind
However, counties will still have discretion over subsidies for unemployed parents, foster families and families with disabilities. Hill says she’d like to see subsidies uniformly extended to these groups as well, and is especially concerned with unemployed families not being eligible for child care help while they try to reenter the workforce, especially women, who have been disproportionately impacted.
Hill also says there is a dire need for an expansion of early intervention services and pre-kindergarten special education, and this budget doesn’t address either.
Reporting requirements could change advocacy
Still, a lot of the budget is the sort of stuff that child care advocates dream of. Especially the reporting requirements on how the money is spent, says Jenn O’Connor. “There will be some legislative oversight as to how this money is spent, and I am very excited to see those numbers.”
This sounds bureaucratic and a lot less interesting than buckets of money, but O’Connor says data on child care spending is a huge deal because it can be hard to come by in New York and across the nation.
“We’ll be able to make a case with the governor, with the Legislature moving forward, with real, concrete evidence.”
North Country impacts
This budget will have a big impact on the North Country. Many more families will be eligible for child care subsidies. Providers should receive substantial, perhaps life-saving, funding up front. One hundred million dollars of the budget is dedicated to improving child care deserts, which the whole North Country qualifies as.
Brodeur, from the Jefferson-Lewis Child Care Project, says the new budget gives her real hope for the future.
“I’ve been sitting in this chair for 11 years. And I feel like it the last year, some things have been horrible, and some things have been just … so hopeful! I just feel like we’re making big steps! It’s exciting to get to see big changes coming.”
Advocates say now they’re waiting for more details, but they’re already reimagining a stronger and more equitable child care system for New York.