Democratic state senators posed a $500 million fund to support the child care work force in its one-house budget resolution passed this week for grants that could potentially increase provider salaries $12,000 annually.
Lawmakers and Gov. Kathy Hochul continue to differ on the best way to address the state's child care crisis as care continues to be unavailable in many parts of the state with an ongoing staffing crisis and workers who make wages near the poverty line.
The $500 million workforce retention grant program would provide up to $12,000 in salary enhancements to child care workers employed at a facility that serves families who receive assistance for care. The Senate's proposal also raises eligibility for assistance up to 103% of the state median income, or 42% of the federal poverty level.
"This is critical because they're getting paid poverty wages now and people can't afford to even stay in the industry," Senate Children & Families Chair Jabari Brisport said.
Providers are pushing for the Senate's proposal, though it's less than the $1 billion they say is needed. New York has about 17,000 child care providers statewide.
"We don't have enough child care workers because they can't afford to do the work," said Brisport, a Brooklyn Democrat.
The $500 million fund to support child care workforce is compared to $389 million Hochul proposed for general stabilization grants that required a portion be committed to workers, but the rest could be used more broadly.
Senators also included a provision to provide money to expand child care assistance to immigrant families and undocumented children.
Katie Dobies, regional director of Maple Leaf Childcare Center, says their centers have waitlists up to a year out for infant care.
They continue to struggle to find substitutes or staff, with one location in Schenectady County serving children at 37% capacity because of the shortage.
"Because of not being able to hire qualified workers, we could fill the center to a 92% capacity, but are unable to care for all of those children because we do not have the qualified staff," she said. "...We are in a kind of a crisis mode."
The Assembly's one-house budget was largely silent on new child care proposals. Representatives with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie's office say they're committed to the governor's spending plan, which commits investing $7.6 billion in child care over the next four years.
Providers continue to put the pressure on lawmakers to implement a universal child care system, estimated to cost $5 billion per year.
Hochul's proposals focus on expanding eligibility for families for child care assistance, as about 10% who are eligible are enrolled, and $25 million for a new tax credit for businesses that create child care opportunities.
Neither house included a plan for universal child care in their spending plans.
"And what that means is all children, no exceptions, should have access to high-quality, safe, affordable child care," said Dede Hill, policy director at the Schuyler Center for Analysis and Advocacy.
Hochul unveiled a new web tool on the Office of Children and Family Services website that allows New Yorkers to complete a questionnaire and determine if they meet the criteria to receive child care assistance.
"Gov. Hochul's Executive Budget makes transformative investments to make New York more affordable, more livable and safer, and she looks forward to working with the legislature on a final budget that meets the needs of all New Yorkers," governor's spokesman Justin Mason said in a prepared statement Friday.
The state Child Care Availability Task Force reconvened in the Capitol this week for the first time since 2021, aiming to help the state implement a universal child care system.
Dobies is a member of the task force — comprised of providers from around the state, Office of Children and Family Services officials and several others. The panel will meet in smaller groups to identify their challenges when the state department makes changes before meeting again this spring.
"It was wonderful," Dobies recalled of Monday's meeting. "We were really able to get a great start talking about what our long-term goals are for universal child care. Hearing all these different voices in the room, I think that we all came to an agreement that the workforce shortages is the criis that we need to address now because we need to build upon ... and get to the root of the problem that we have right now."
Officials with the state Office of Children and Family Services stressed the department has approved more than $1 billion in two rounds of stabilization grants to 15,000 providers to recover from the pandemic.
About 12,000 child care slots have opened up statewide since last July, with an emphasis in child care deserts in marginalized communities, according to OCFS.
Suzanne Miles-Gustave, acting commissioner of the state Office of Children and Family Services, told lawmakers at a hearing last month the department is laser-focused on improving child care slots, but it hasn't been easy.
She says it would be impossible for the state to achieve universal child care on its own without greater federal support.
But Brisport hopes the Senate's bold funding for workforce grants will be included in the final state budget due April 1. Building on that investment in the years to come, the senator added, will keep the state on track to reach a publicly funded universal child care system in about four years.
"Which means accessible to all and free for all," he said. "That's the timeline I'd like to keep pushing for."