By Ariama C. Long
Mayor Eric Adams vowed to invest in the city’s 500,000 children under 5-years-old in his child care and early education blueprint last week. But, many are saying that a big part of the money should go to chronically underfunded child care providers.
“As a child, my mother had to work three jobs and still find a way to take care of me and my siblings,” said Adams in a statement. “And during the COVID-19 pandemic, almost 375,000 parents were forced to quit or downshift their jobs because they had no other way to take care of their children. Now, my administration is working to make sure no parent has to make that hard choice between child care and putting food on their table again.”
According to the city, about “52% of New York City families with children under age four cannot afford child care and, since the start of the pandemic, one in four parents have had to turn down a job, change jobs, or take leave due to child care needs.”
The plan aims to support working families, reverse the economic impact on parents of color, and boost the economy. The allocations for child care 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, said the mayor’s office.
There will be a new application available on an online portal that will cut red tape and “alleviate 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 child care access in “high needs neighborhoods” citywide.
“This investment into early childhood education will tremendously benefit working families by providing accessible child care and taking large steps to include undocumented families who were previously excluded from these opportunities,” said U.S. Rep Adriano Espaillat in a statement.
There were few concerns about the educational programming for the city’s youngest, but the issue of pay parity for child care staff came up time and again. There’s hope that the mayor’s blueprint won’t gloss over the issue as money is dispersed.
Gregory Brender, director of public policy at the Daycare Council NY, said that staff salaries among providers in infant and toddler care are critical. At the moment city-funded child care providers, like the home-based ones in a building or at a larger childcare center, receive lower rates than Department of Education (DOE) staff, he said. At least 109 of these group child care centers shuttered during the 2020 pandemic, said Brender, who was unsure how many have managed to open back up since.
“Traditionally, and unfortunately, staff in childcare have not gotten paid as much as public schools. I think this has been a legacy of discrimination because it’s a workforce that’s mostly women and women of color,” said Brender. “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 established in the city in 2019. Bowen ran a child care center near the Grand Concourse in the Bronx called the E&A Freedom Center for 14 years. She said that she had gotten married and changed residences right as the pandemic hit in 2020. Once everything closed, it was impossible for her to restart her business with the application process and find children to fill her class list. Her business soon closed.
Bowen said that the bulk 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 childcare providers.
Bowen said that the mayor’s blueprint acknowledges the low pay but doesn’t address it enough in her opinion. She said that the current pay rates, although better than what they were a few years ago, are not great for workers and will in fact create a division between independent child care providers and DOE-affiliated providers on the city’s network. Neither of which pay well, she said.
“Anytime there is poverty involved,” said Bowen, “the city agencies do not respect you. And because we get paid such low wages, this has always been there. They’ve always been so disrespectful to us and the families that we serve. ”
Jasmine Gripper, the executive director for the Alliance for Quality Education (AQE), concurred that higher wages for providers are essential to quality child care. She said she worries that the mayor’s office will lean on subsidies through companies for childcare and not give more money to families and staff. Gripper said that since the pandemic, there’s been a huge renewal in childcare at every level of government. Childcare was considered historically “women’s work,” said Gripper, which she thinks speaks to why it’s been so undervalued and underpaid in the country.
“It’s a field that we as a country have underinvested in overall. We need to do better because we haven’t invested in its totality. We see these big gaps existing all over the place,” said Gripper.
In a report compiled by AQE, Gripper and others concluded that child care centers citywide were grossly expensive, lacking in choices for families, needed higher child care subsidy rates for families, lacked in transportation access, were overcrowded, and a product of “deep-seated inequities” in the system.
“It easily costs $15,000 a year for a 2-year-old to be in care, that is unaffordable for low-income and middle-income families. And we need to address this,” said Gripper.
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w