Johnson City, NY Assemblymembers and Senators from across the state banded together Thursday to rally in support of the childcare industry. Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo helped organize the statewide Child Care Day of Action, which included public events in Binghamton, Buffalo, the Capital Region, Hudson Valley, Irving, NYC, Plattsburgh, Rochester, Rockland County, Syracuse, and Westchester County. A virtual event with lawmakers and advocates was also held via Zoom. Lupardo was joined locally by advocates from the Family Enrichment Network and local childcare centers.
As New York recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, we have to ensure that childcare is accessible and affordable for working parents, said Assemblywoman Lupardo. Early on during New Yorks On Pause order, childcare was designated as essential; we need to remember that it has always been essential and is more essential than ever as New Yorkers get back to work. We will never rebuild our economy without this critically important building block.
This advocacy across New York State follows an August 4th letter sent to the Governor from 83 legislators calling for the release of CARES Act funding to support the reopening or expansion of childcare centers. The pandemic has further weakened an already-fragile industry, with 25% of childcare programs and 70% of school-aged childcare centers closing since the outbreak of COVID-19.
Child Care programs were struggling financially pre-COVID, said Jennifer Perney, Child Care Resource & Referral Director for the Family Enrichment Network. The reduced capacity and enrollment during the pandemic, combined with the increased costs for health and safety, further enhances the problems. Childcare programs need direct financial assistance to survive.
To support childcare across the state, the federal government included $162 million as part of the CARES Act. The funding was separated into two allotments: CARES Act I funds, which support operating costs and the purchase of health and safety supplies; and CARES Act II funds, which support grants to programs to reopen or expand capacity. CARES Act I funds have been spent, but tens of millions of dollars in CARES Act II funding have yet to been allocated.
In addition to the un-allocated CARES II funds, there is about $70M left unspent at the Governors Division of Budget. Although Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies (CCRRs) across the State were enlisted this spring by OCFS to support programs and providers, some CCRRs have not received compensation for the first two quarters of their regular state contracts. As a result, they are dipping into lines of credit and struggling to make payroll.
Even prior to the pandemic, employees were hesitant to discuss their childcare needs for fear of being seen as unable to balance work and home. This crisis has hit women and women of color particularly hard. Without the release of funding, workers will be forced to choose between returning to work and caring for their kids at home. In addition to calling for the release of funding, advocates and providers have proposed a Child Care Forward grant program which could be used toward any costs associated with operating a childcare program from September to December of 2020.