NY, child care in the United States must be a legislative priority

Shortly after the pandemic hit, childcare began to get the attention it long deserved. There have been nationwide reports of widespread daycare closures that have forced parents to find makeshift alternatives, cut hours or stop working altogether. There were heartfelt tributes to the many child care programs that stayed open or reopened as quickly as they could despite the health risks they endured and the dwindling income they received. . Government officials, women’s groups, economists, business associations and many others have recognized the unique and essential role child care plays in the lives of children, families, employers and the economy.

The federal government’s pandemic funding certainly limited the damage to childcare businesses and, for a time, helped some parents, especially first responders and essential workers, with their childcare costs. But it was aimed at stabilizing the child care system we had, not solving longstanding deficiencies in child care in the United States. These historic problems – child care deserts, unaffordable fees, high turnover of a poorly paid child care workforce – have become even worse.

The light that the pandemic has cast on child care, highlighting its unique connection to work and labor supply, has finally been followed by broad and insistent calls to build in our country the system of child care that exists in virtually all developed countries. Finally, President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better program has pledged the scale of funding needed to make our child care system universally accessible and to strengthen its quality by increasing compensation for the people who do this most important and more difficult. When Build Back Better failed, other bills asking for lesser but still significant funding were announced loudly, with strong support. But when the reconciliation package was finally announced, childcare was completely missing – an incomprehensible and maddening omission.

So child care remains where it always has been in the United States – undervalued and taken for granted. As a result, it will continue to be unaffordable for many hard-working families. The supply of child care, particularly for infants, toddlers and non-traditional schedules, will not match demand. Extremely low wages for child care professionals will ensure high turnover and vacancies, which will limit enrollment and undermine quality.

Those of us who live in Westchester County, New York are remarkably lucky. New York took a big step forward this year by dramatically expanding families’ eligibility for child care financial assistance. And Westchester County has gone one step further by creating the Westchester Works Child Care Scholarship Program to help working parents at even higher income levels. These parents – and there are thousands of them – face childcare bills equal to 30% of household income or even more, without these scholarships.

New York City and Westchester County have both answered the call for child care reform that has come from so many voices during the pandemic. But continuing and expanding these efforts will require a level of investment that only the federal government can make. To federal public servants, we ask this question: what happened to child care? And more importantly, what actions will you take now to deliver on the promises made to working families and child care staff across the United States?

Kathleen Halas, Executive Director, Child Care Council of Westchester, speaks about access to and quality of childcare during an editorial board meeting at the Journal News headquarters in White Plains on Thursday, February 15, 2018 .

Kathleen Halas is executive director of the Child Care Council of Westchester, Inc.

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