Two State Senators who serve Western New York are urging Albany to increase funding to Erie County for a child care subsidy program that could help families who cannot afford child care on their own but earn too much to be eligible for other child care support.
The cost of child care is New York State, according to Western New York Women's Foundation executive director Sheri Scavone, is the most expensive in the nation. She suggested one could easier afford a year attending the University at Buffalo than paying for quality child care.
"On average, child care in New York State is $14,000 a year," Scavone said.
The WNY Women's Foundation has, since 2016, advocated for the inclusion of Erie County in the state's Facilitated Enrollment Child Care Program, which provides subsidies to low-income families who work but cannot afford child care on their own.
Senators Patrick Gallivan and Chris Jacobs say in the last fiscal year, money was squeezed into the state budget at the very last moment, supporting 84 children among 57 families in Erie County through the Facilitated Enrollment Child Care Program.
"Western New York lags far behind the other regions in the state," Gallivan said. "There was a period of time when this was a program funded in five or six areas of the state with no money coming into Western New York. If it wasn't for Sheri speaking up initially and educating the Western New York legislators, this program wouldn't even exist here in Buffalo and Western New York."
Gallivan and Jacobs are seeking an increase in funding to Erie County, $2 million in the next fiscal year. That amount of money, they say, will serve at least 200 children.
Jacobs says the dilemma many local households face is that the income level puts parents in a position where they feel forced to compromise one need over another.
"Working parents should not have to choose between keeping a job and quality child care," he said. "Unfortunately, we have many more families in need of this critical program than we have funding available. The $2 million we are requesting will enable this program to triple the number of children that can be served through this program."
According to Scavone, access to good-quality child care reduces work absenteeism, increases retention for employers, develops the intellect and social skills of the children in day care and generates economic activity "bigger than a two-to-one ratio."
Brianna Harris, who has benefited from the program, says it has not only given her stability but it also supports the community. Some, she suggested, might create work by providing the care that beneficiaries can now afford.
"It gives the ability for people to create their own income at home by being in-home providers or opening up child care in our own communities," she said.