The rising cost of child care continues to put a strain on hard-working families in Westchester. Tiffany Thomas, a local parent, is a bus driver. Because her salary does not cover the cost of high quality child care for her three-year old, she made the difficult decision to leave her daughter with a babysitter on a daily basis. But she worries about her future prospects. Will her daughter miss out on early learning opportunities if she is not in a licensed, educational child care program? Will she be behind her peers when she gets to kindergarten?
Unfortunately, Tiffany is not alone with her concerns. They are shared by many families, and, such worries are increasingly widespread. Recently, I traveled to Albany with 35 child care advocates including Kathy Halas of the Child Care Council of Westchester; and Donnovan Beckford, CEO/Executive Director, and Vernex Harding, Early Childhood Director, at WestCOP, which runs many early childhood programs throughout the County. We were there to make the case for additional child care funding.
New York ranks among the most expensive states for child care. The average cost for full-time center-based care is $15,000 a year for an infant and more than $13,000 for a toddler, preschool or school-age youngster in licensed after-school care. We met with Assembly member Sandy Galef, and with the staffs of Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Senators David Carlucci, Peter Harckham, and Assembly member Steve Otis, each of whom supports affordable child care. We called on them to budget for a higher reimbursement rate for child care providers, and a cap on parent co-pays to help parents with subsidized child care who are struggling to pay the current co-pay rates.
Local employers are having a hard time finding and keeping reliable low-wage employees because these workers cannot find affordable, high quality child care.
New York can’t continue to ignore this growing crisis and must invest more in child care this year. This increased investment must allow for higher reimbursement rates for child care providers. Provider reimbursement rates have not kept up with the mandated rise in the New York State minimum wage. Several after-school programs in Westchester have closed because staff salaries stretched budgets beyond the breaking point. Provider reimbursement rates must reflect the true cost of providing quality care.
Investing in quality child care pays great dividends in the long-run. Nobel Laureate Economist James Heckman analyzed three long-term studies that tracked low-income children from infancy through adulthood. Heckman found a seven to one return on investment in terms of the study participants’ adult productivity and achievement levels, and consequently, reduced government spending on social programs.
Our current child care market is failing to help the children who need assistance the most. Nationally, almost half of children under three years old live in or near poverty. But funding levels have not kept pace with the rising cost of child care. Additionally, many low-income working families don’t benefit from the current child care tax credit because they have little or no federal income tax liability and the amount of the credit doesn’t come near offsetting the cost of care. While we say — as a society — that we want families to work, we are putting quality child care farther and farther out of reach. New York needs safe, accessible, and affordable child care.
Howard Milbert is Executive Director of the Ossining Children’s Center. The Center creates a foundation for children’s lifelong intellectual, social, emotional, and physical growth, provides care and education for children in a safe, nurturing and enriching environment, and serves as a community resource and advocate for families. For more information, visit ossiningchildrenscenter.org.