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One-time employee bonuses or temporary policy changes won’t fix child care access problem in Upstate New York

Gov. Kathy Hochul’s vision to address the state’s child care crisis continues to differ from several lawmakers as they prepare to begin this session’s budget negotiations. The Senate Children & Families Committee held a legislative hearing in Albany on Thursday to hear testimony from providers around the state about how to best help the crumbling system. Three of the Senate’s seven members participated. The state has lost the ability to provide child care to about 20,000 fewer children since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The state lost roughly half of those fewer slots for care in the last six months, Pete Nabozny, director of The Children’s Agenda, told lawmakers.

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“Unfortunately, for too many families in New York, child care is, instead, a constant challenge to manage,” Nabozny said during testimony. “Many families simply cannot find a care center that meets their needs.” Child care is becoming scarce across New York — especially in urban and rural communities — with many counties facing double-digit declines in child programs over the last three years. More than two dozen providers testified about a system in freefall, saying inadequate funding has kept wages low, forced centers to close and led to a decline in families seeking services. Child care providers are paid near the poverty level, leading to higher turnover and fewer options for parents trying to return to the office.

Dede Hill, policy director with the Schuyler Center, says a one-time bonus or increase won’t have a lasting impact on the workforce. “We cannot ask them to do anything more before we raise wages,” Hill said. “And they also need to see that the increase is sustained.” Hochul committed $7.7 billion over four years in last year’s budget. Hill said the funding was a start, but not enough to reverse the crisis. It marked increased investments in child care, but fell short of what advocates and several Democrats hoped for: An annual commitment of $5 billion for a universal child care system for all New York families, void of income or immigration status barriers. But Hochul isn’t sold on the idea, or its price tag. She wouldn’t say Thursday if she supports the proposal, and instead, reiterated her plans to increase the income threshold to make more families eligible for child care subsidies earning $90,000 assistance and streamlining the application process to help more families take advantage of the programs.