BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Efforts are underway to combat Western New York's child care crisis.
Gov. Cuomo's brand new Child Care Availability Task Force held it's first meeting Wednesday.
The task force was created as part of the governor's 2018 Women's Agenda and is comprised of 31 experts from across the state. They include representatives from the child care provider community, the advocacy community, representatives of the business community, unions that represent child care providers, representatives from several state agencies and local departments of social service.
The task force will examine access to affordable child care, the availability of child care for parents with non-traditional work hours, statutory and regulatory changes that could promote or enhance access to child care, business incentives to increase child care access, and the impact on tax credits and deductions relating to child care.
One of the experts on the task force is the Executive Director of the Western New York Women's Foundation, Sheri Scavone. Scavone has been advocating for better access to affordable, accessible, quality child care across the state for years.
Scavone said 54 child care providers have shut down this year in Erie County, which exacerbates an already existing shortage of infant and toddler care providers in Western New York. Scavone said the task force is anxious to address the problem.
"There's certainly a lot of passion on behalf of myself and the other members of the task force to really do something and make our child care system the best in the nation," Scavone said.
The task force is expected to share its initial recommendations with the administration next year and finalize its report by the end of 2020.
During a news conference in Buffalo in November, Gov. Cuomo told 7 Eyewitness News he believes his administration has already made great progress on child care reform and will do even more during the upcoming legislative session.
The governor said he plans to devote more resources to child care reform in the 2019 state budget, and suggested the amount of money counties get to help families afford services will be a focus.
"It's not about the concept of child care," said Gov. Cuomo. "Everybody agrees it's about the funding levels. And that's going to be the discussion we have through the legislative session and the budget."
In response, Amanda Kelkenberg, CEO of the Child Care Resource Network, pointed out that incremental increases to the child care subsidy program have not materialized in the past several years.
"The high cost of care is hurting families, stagnant reimbursement rates hurt child care programs, and our children deserve a system that insists on proper funding to ensure that every program in NYS provides the highest quality care possible," Kelkenberg said in a statement.
In Erie County alone, there are more than 278,000 who qualify for that child care subsidy . That means there are nearly 300,000 Erie County residents earning below 200% of the federal poverty level. For a family of two, that's a family income at or below $32,920 per year.
7 Eyewitness News has been committed to covering the child care crisis and how it creates barriers to employment as part of our Hiring 716 initiative.
In August, a group of panelists including child care professionals and parents, examine the cost, available resources and overwhelming demand for quality child care in our area. You can watch that full panel discussion here .