Last week, Mayor Eric Adams pledged to invest in the city’s 500,000 children under the age of five in his childcare and early education blueprint. But many say that much of the money should go to chronically underfunded childcare providers.
“As a child, my mother had to work three jobs and still find a way to take care of me and my siblings,” Adams said in a statement. “And during the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly 375,000 parents were forced to quit or move their jobs because they had no other way to care for their children. Now my administration is working to make sure that no parent has to make that difficult choice between childcare and putting food on their table again.”
According to the city, about “52% of New York City families with children under the age of four cannot afford childcare, and since the start of the pandemic, one in four parents has had to turn down a job, change jobs or take leave . due to childcare needs.”
The plan aims to support working families, reverse the economic impact for parents of color and boost the economy. The child care allocations in the city budget include $9.2 million for low-income vouchers, plus a promised $800 million in investments over the next four years. Altogether, the funding should yield an approximate total of $2 billion in child care spending, the mayor’s office said.
There will be a new application available on an online portal that will cut through the hassle and “ease the frustrations” of an often difficult and complicated application process for families. It also allows $10 million in investments for undocumented families to receive child care benefits and will expand access to child care in “high-need neighborhoods” citywide.
“This investment in early childhood education will greatly benefit working families by providing accessible child care and taking major steps to include undocumented families who were previously excluded from these opportunities,” U.S. Representative Adriano Espaillat said in a statement.
There was little concern about the education programming for the city’s youngest, but the issue of pay parity for childcare workers came up again and again. There is hope that the mayor’s blueprint will not erase the issue as money is distributed.
Gregory Brender, director of public policy at the Daycare Council NY, said staff salaries among providers in infant and toddler care are critical. Currently, city-funded child care providers, such as those housed in a building or at a larger child care center, receive lower rates than Department of Education (DOE) staff, he said. At least 109 of these group childcare centers closed during the 2020 pandemic, said Brender, who was unsure how many have since managed to reopen.
“Traditionally, and unfortunately, childcare staff have not paid as much as public schools. I think it’s been a legacy of discrimination because it’s a workforce that’s mostly women and women of color,” Brender said. “We’re hopeful that they’re going to change that.”
Bronx native Shanita Bowen is the director of operations for ECE On The Move, a group of more than 600 home-based childcare educators founded in the city in 2019. Bowen ran a childcare center near the Grand Concourse in the Bronx called the E&A Freedom. Center for 14 years. She said that she got married and changed residence just as the pandemic hit in 2020. After everything was closed, it was impossible for her to restart her business with the application process and get children to fill her class list. Her business soon closed.
Bowen said that the majority of her colleagues are underpaid women of color and only Spanish-speaking Hispanic women. Her organization advocates for resources such as higher pay, benefits, health care and pensions for child care providers.
Bowen said that the mayor’s blueprint recognizes the low pay, but in her opinion does not pay enough attention to it. She said the current pay rates, while better than they were a few years ago, are not good for workers and will actually create a divide between independent child care providers and DOE-affiliated providers on the city’s network. None of them pay well, she said.
“Any time poverty is involved,” Bowen said, “the city agencies don’t respect you. And because we are paid such low wages, it has always been there. They have always been so disrespectful to us and the families we serve. “
Jasmine Gripper, the executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education (AQE), agreed that higher wages for providers are essential to quality child care. She said she was concerned that the mayor’s office would lean on subsidies from childcare companies and not give more money to families and staff. Gripper said that since the pandemic, there has been a major innovation in child care at every level of government. Child care has historically been considered “women’s work”, says Gripper, which she says speaks to why it is so undervalued and underpaid in the country.
“This is a field in which we as a country have generally underinvested. We have to do better because we haven’t invested in the entirety of it. We’re seeing these big gaps exist all over the place,” Gripper said.
In a report compiled by AQE, Gripper and others concluded that child care centers in the city were very expensive, lacked choices for families, needed higher child care subsidy rates for families, lacked transportation access, were overcrowded, and a product of “deep-seated inequalities” in the system.
“It costs easily $15,000 a year for a 2-year-old to be in care, it’s unaffordable for low-income and middle-income families. And we need to address that,” Gripper said.
Ariama C. Long is a member of the Report for America staff and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps her write stories like this; Please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w