At last week’s State of State address, Gov. Kathy Hochul made a pledge to overhaul New York’s childcare system which in recent years has seen mass closures, inequities in access and low wages for providers.
Much of the governor’s plans revolve around increasing access.
Last year, Hochul’s administration invested $7 billion in the state’s childcare system over the next four years, but less than 10% of eligible families have utilized childcare assistance since the allocation was made, Hochul said.
New York City is home to the U.S.’ largest, publicly funded childcare system for low-income families. Prior to the pandemic, its network of centers served more than 22,000 kids.
But cracks in the state’s system include underpaid child workers while families struggle to afford the cost of care — which for infants is $21,112, or about $1,760 per month, according to most recent market rate data.
Under Hochul’s latest proposal, families in each of the state’s 62 counties would be able to get pre-certified and apply for childcare benefits online. Making this change would centralize the application process, Hochul said, putting all the forms families must complete in one place, which should allow the state to process significantly more applications each year.
Nearly 16,000 childcare programs have permanently shuttered due to pandemic-induced financial devastation.
In 2017, the Bronx had 3,358 regulated childcare programs. And by 2022, there were roughly 2,827 programs left, according to the state — with childcare deserts developing in the areas of Middletown, Hunts Point and the North Bronx.
More than 75% of infants and toddlers in the Bronx whose families rely on publicly funded childcare are cared for within a home-based care business, according to data compiled by All Our Kin, a nonprofit that trains and supports childcare educators. And advocates argue that such reliance highlights the urgent need for greater funding from the state.
“We said ‘why can’t we make this easier,’” Hochul said at the Bronx Children’s Museum on Jan. 11. “So, we’re going to streamline and centralize the childcare application process. It sounds simple, but no one’s done it before.”
Hochul also wants to elevate the income limit for childcare assistance eligibility to the maximum allowed under federal law, raising the cap from $83,000 to $93,000 annually for a family of four — which is 85% of New York’s median income.
Across the state, as the COVID-19 pandemic put a chokehold on regular business practices and more people spent time at home, 9,500 childcare providers in the state either closed their doors or cut programs.
As working parents resume a life that involves more in-office trips — a 2021 Bright Horizons survey found that 62% of working parents felt that continuity of in-person schooling or childcare is essential to their ability to work — they find their options limited or below their expected standard of care.
More than 100,000 childcare workers have fled the field for better-paying jobs in retail and other service industries, according to federal data.
Hochul is also working on a new workforce retention grant program for childcare providers which includes sign-on bonuses to help with recruitment.
Reach Robbie Sequeira at [email protected] or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes.