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Op-Ed: Child Care is Vital to Our Communities and Economy, NY State Should be Bold and Aim for Universal Child Care

Image courtesy of Diana Limongi

Jan. 12, 2022 Op-Ed By Diana Limongi

As a parent of two children and a childcare advocate, I know all too well that families all over Queens and across New York State are having difficulty finding affordable, quality child care in their communities.

This was already an issue before COVID; New York lost more than 9,500 licensed child care slots from 2019 to 2020 and the pandemic only made it worse, forcing many centers to shut down permanently.

Between April 2020 and Feb 2021,1,500 child care providers in NY closed. This is an issue that I know personally as my own beloved child care center closed during COVID and never reopened its doors, leaving us without the loving caregivers we trusted to take care of our daughter while we worked.

Given the hardships that families are facing, I had high hopes that after the COVID-19 pandemic exposed how critical child care is for our communities, Gov. Hochul would take this opportunity to lead the way by announcing a bold plan that would position New York State as a leader on child care and an example to follow nationally.

Diana Limongi and her daughter Sofia (Mia Isabella Photography)

Alas, Gov. Hochul’s plan falls short:

At a time when most families are spending a good chunk of their take-home pay on child care (for many families, it can represent 20-30 percent of our take home pay, higher if it is a single parent) the Governor’s proposal lacks the bold, transformational investments we need to help working parents.

Investing in child care doesn’t only mean supporting working parents, it is also about recognizing the professionals who take care of our children. Bigger investments to support our childcare workforce are a must.

Sadly, Gov. Hochul’s proposed investment of $75 million of unspent federal funds for workforce support also falls short. Early Care educators, many of whom are women of color and immigrant women, have one of the most important jobs in our communities, but most are not making living wages.

The average median child care wage is less than $30,000 a year. In fact, over half qualify for public assistance, and don’t have access to affordable healthcare or other benefits such as paid time off.

As a parent who has relied on child care workers to be able to work outside the home, I want the people who take care of my children to be able to take care of their families and that means having access to living wages and good working conditions.

The proposed $75M is not a new investment, but leftover federal funding from federal stabilization grants that went to child care providers last year. Not only is this an insufficient amount but it also provides no new state investment in child care and falls short of meeting current, urgent needs.

Sadly, it does not even begin the transformative change required to ensure quality care for our children and work opportunity for parents.

Child care is a huge financial stressor for parents. Bring it up at any mom or parent forum and most parents will tell you: child care is just too expensive.

Image courtesy of Diana Limongi

The burden of making child care work usually falls on working mothers. The burden when it doesn’t work usually results in mothers being pushed out of the workforce.

For some parents, child care can represent 20-30 percent of a family’s take home pay– to be clear, this isn’t a “low income” family issue. Families across the board are struggling to pay for child care.

How does Governor Hochul expect people who are without child care assistance to work and care for our children?  Sadly, her failure to make bold, transformational investments in childcare will mostly hurt mothers, children and child care providers who are professionals and care deeply about the children in their care.

Investments in child care don’t only make sense from an economic perspective (more people working is good for the economy), but also from gender, racial and immigrant justice perspectives.

When families cannot find affordable, quality, accessible child care, many women are forced out of the workplace– and this is bad for our families, and bad for our economy.  The time is now! I urge Gov. Hochul and our leaders in New York State to take bold action: Make investments in our child care system, with the goal of universal child care in the great state of New York. New Yorkers deserve nothing less.

Diana Limongi is a member of Community Board 1, Queens, NY

She is a parent leader, a Campaign Director at MomsRising.org and a Steering Committee Member of the Empire State Campaign for Child Care.

email the author: [email protected]
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