Apr 26, 2022

The Historical Impact of New York State’s Investment in Child Care

Putting New York on the path to universal child care

By Jason Cone, Chief Public Policy Officer

Equitable access to affordable, high-quality child care is essential in the fight against poverty. Research shows time and time again that equitable access to affordable, high-quality, and culturally responsive child care and early learning opportunities are essential, as they equip children with tools and experiences that are developmentally necessary for future success.

New York City is home to 100,000 children ages 0–3 who are living below the poverty line and 52% of New York City families cannot afford the high costs of child care. Without access to affordable, high-quality child care, these young children will continue to fall further behind the starting line.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Robin Hood research found that having a child is one of the life events most closely associated with prompting New Yorkers to fall back into poverty — even more than losing a job. A February 2021 poll performed by Raising New York found 89% of New York City parents are concerned about the lack of affordable high-quality infant and toddler care options for their family. Roughly 15% of the child care workforce lives below the official poverty line and at least 65% of child care workers receive some type of public benefit due to low wages. Without higher wages and opportunities for career advancement, the number of child care providers will continue to shrink, with vulnerable young children and their families getting hit hardest.

Child care access also enables children’s parents and caregivers to consistently earn income to support their families. Without it, many of these caregivers — predominantly women of color — will be further hindered from fully engaging in the workforce, or from attaining educational milestones associated with increased opportunities to permanently escape poverty.

That’s why this budget season, Robin Hood launched our Child Care Now initiative and partnered with legislative leaders including State Senators Jessica Ramos and Jabari Brisport and Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi and Assemblywoman Sarah Clark, child care providers, advocates, and business leaders to push for child care expansion.

Robin Hood’s work included:

  • Releasing an economic analysis in partnership with the Columbia Center on Poverty and Social Policy, which showed how expanding child care vouchers would fight poverty;
  • Conducting a statewide poll with HarrisX that showed overwhelming support for the child care expansion from voters of all political stripes across the state, including in battleground regions;
  • Releasing a poll of business decision makers in New York State by HarrisX, which found more than three-out-of-four business leaders support the expansion, and;
  • Publishing a study in partnership with the Columbia Center on Poverty and Social Policy that found 25% of New York City families reported they had to turn down a job, change their job, or take a leave of absence because of child care issues during the pandemic. More than 1 in 5 people did not look for work because of child care needs.

And the advocacy, partnership, and investments paid off when, earlier this month, New York State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and Governor Kathy Hochul made history by including substantial child care investments in the state budget. This included an expansion of child care vouchers, tax incentives for businesses to expand access in child care deserts, and higher reimbursement rates to enable providers to raise wages or hire more staff — all of which positioned New York State as a national leader in expanding access to affordable child care.

This move sets the stage for New York City to fill child care deserts for tens of thousands of families. It also sets New York’s children up for long-term success, dramatically reduces poverty, and helps more parents get back to work post-pandemic.

But our work is far from over. To ensure this investment has the full impact the state needs, the legislature still must address the ongoing and onerous requirements families must meet to secure a child care voucher. We also must continue to fight alongside the legislature to ensure our undocumented neighbors will be able to access child care vouchers before this session ends because all children deserve access to high quality, affordable child care. And, finally, the state’s child care system will continue to suffer from high turnover, quality gaps, and a lack of equitable access if we do not raise provider’s poverty-level wages.

Robin Hood will continue to work with our partners, including advocates, child care providers, business leaders, and the legislature to further improve the child care voucher program, including allowing undocumented immigrants to receive vouchers, eliminating onerous work requirements, and finding a long-term solution to raise the poverty wages that child care workers earn.