Child care is finally a priority in Albany

It’s probably no coincidence that it took a female governor to bring child care to the foreground in Albany. Gov. Kathy Hochul knows the struggle well; she once had to quit a job after trying to find child care.

It’s an important issue in places like the Adirondacks, where child care deserts are an increasing concern. Plus, it’s no secret that New York’s child care system is broken; for years, it’s been plagued by lengthy waiting lists and costs that a lot of parents can’t afford.

In her executive budget, Hochul proposed increasing the state’s child care spending to $1.4 billion. She calls for more financial support and subsidies for child care providers; funding would also be earmarked to create day care centers at some state universities.

The state Senate and Assembly, in turn, have both suggested committing billions of dollars to subsidize child care for more low-income families.

This is the first year New York doesn’t have “three men in the room” — a phrase used to describe negotiations with the governor and New York’s Senate and Assembly leaders. With a woman in the governor’s office, and a female Senate majority leader, there’s hope that child care will remain a priority as budget talks shake out.

We think most New Yorkers can agree that more state spending isn’t something to celebrate. But these funding proposals come at a time when women across the country are staying home — and out of the workforce — in part because of child care challenges exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the New York Times, just before the pandemic hit in January 2020, the number of women had just surpassed the number of men in the workforce. That’s a significant change. In the 1950s, women made up only a third of the workforce. This past May, however, just 56% of American women were working for pay — the lowest level since 1986, the Times reported. Not all of that can be attributed to child care issues, but it’s no doubt one of many contributing factors.

The Adirondack region has an urgent need for both expanded child care programs and a bigger workforce. Perhaps a way to improve the latter is to focus on making it as easy as possible for parents to send their kids to a safe child care provider.

A recent report from the Adirondack Birth to Three Alliance, an organization established by the Adirondack Foundation with a focus on child care advocacy and research, shows that 80% of census tracts in Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Hamilton and Warren counties are considered “child care deserts,” meaning the number of children far outpaces the number of child care slots available.

Even as the need for child care continues, the number of available slots is declining.

Between 2017 and 2019, the number of regulated slots in early childhood education programs in this five-county region declined by 586, leaving 4,711 slots for the 11,000 children under 6 years old living here, according to the Adirondack Birth to Three Alliance report.

Of those 4,711 slots, 34% are in Franklin and Essex counties.

The Tri-Lakes region is lucky to have child care programs. By virtue of this region’s comparatively dense population, we’re faring better than other rural communities in northern New York. And that’s saying something — many local parents can attest to the difficulty in finding reliable and affordable child care.

With less than a week before the state’s April 1 budget deadline, we hope lawmakers continue to prioritize child care and, as Abigail Adams wrote to her husband John Adams in 1776, “remember the ladies.”


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