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State-appointed task force calls on lawmakers to overhaul child care system

Posted at 8:47 PM, May 24, 2021

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — In its 53-page report, the New York State-appointed Child Care Availability Task Force paints a bleak picture of the child care crisis in New York.

"The child care landscape is characterized by major gaps in affordability, access, and quality - with a resulting negative impact on our economy," the report states.

The Task Force is comprised of key stakeholders including Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, child care advocates and providers. Together, they make four key recommendations to overhaul the system:

  1. Make child care more affordable for families
  2. Create equitable access
  3. Improve quality standards
  4. Better coordinate funding across New York State's child care institutions

"We really have to start looking at child care as an essential infrastructure," said Sheri Scavone, Executive Director of the WNY Women's Foundation and member of the Child Care Availability Task Force. "We've talked about it as a workforce support, and that's a new way of thinking for many people."

Already, some of the recommendations are being put into action thanks to the $2.3 billion the State received in federal COVID-19 stimulus funds. But task force members stress that the federal funds will not be enough to make long-term impact.

"It really is one-time funding, a lot of it has to be spent right now and it's not sustainable," said Beth Starks, Executive Director of the Chautauqua Lake Child Care Center and member of the Child Care Availability Task Force.

When it comes to improving the quality of child care, the task force says workers must be paid more than their current compensation.

In Bureau of Labor Statistics analysis, the highest paying states for child care workers are the District of Columbia, Vermont, California, Washington, and Massachusetts, all of which average more than $33,000 annually. The Bureau found that the annual mean wage for child care workers in New York is $31,500, which breaks down to $15.14 per hour.

However, the idea of raising wages comes with its own challenges.

"We cannot charge parents more than they're paying now," said Starks. "They're paying more now than college tuition."

The average cost of center-based infant care in New York is currently $15,028 per year.

The task force argues that if the subsidy system is streamlined and improved, this could help providers pay for the cost of doing business.

The report recommends that the State boost subsidies such that families living at or below the federal poverty line should have fully subsidized child care, and everyone else should pay no more than 10 percent of their gross family income. This measure, the report suggests, would save a typical New York family with an infant $7,461 and generate $22 billion in new economic activity.

Researchers estimate that for every $1 that goes into child care, $1.86 is put back into the economy because more people are participating in the workforce.

"We did the math, it’s just that the return is not immediate," said Starks. "And so it’s really hard to convince whatever powers that be, whether it’s the legislature or the governor and staff to spend that money now, to not see that return for a while.”

Task force members are already getting to work with this report. They're appealing to State lawmakers to draft and support legislation that will put their recommendations into action by the next budget cycle.