Dozens of state lawmakers were out across New York State Thursday, calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to release approximately $80 million in remaining federal relief for childcare centers.
Back in March, New York State was provided $162 million for childcare providers and programs through the CARES Act. Of the remaining portion, $69 million of unallocated funds remains on hold in Albany, while $10 million remains in the Essential Worker Scholarship program.
Assemblymembers Karen McMahon and Monica Wallace joined a Buffalo-area childcare center owner, a mother who relies on such facilities and the head of the Western New York Women's Foundation to call for the release of those remaining funds.
Wallace admits that money is merely a band-aid for larger systemic problems that were exposed by the pandemic.
"It has ripped the band aid off so many problems, the nursing home industry and the lack of adequate staffing," she said. "The fact that communities of color are disproportionately essential workers who have been really struggling to do their jobs. And also, this industry, which has been struggling for decades operating very thin margins, and now is really potentially going to collapse."
Wallace and McMahon appeared outside Imagination Station, a childcare center on the Niagara Lutheran Campus off Broadway in Lancaster. Its owner, Kelly Kronbeck, explained one of her challenges is higher costs for pesonal protective equipment.
She told those in attendance that sets of masks which previously cost $50 are now costing closer to $200. She also spoke of the need to make modifications to satisfy social distancing requirements and of a lack of movement in requests for grant funding.
"We don't need it in a month. We need it now. We needed it a month ago," Kronbeck said. "We've applied for grants. And we've taken that entire process, and taking days to write out for grant money, and it has not been seen. Not a single dime."
Melanie McAuley, a working parent and client of Imagination Station, explained her job was deemed essential during the pandemic, requiring her to report to work while needing to care for a young child. Financial considerations forced her to drop her son's care down to part-time, she explained, but she also considered herself more fortunate than many peers.
"I’m so thankful his center was able to stay open, despite the pandemic. It gave me peace of mind knowing my son was in a secure and loving atmosphere," she said. "I hear many stories from friends whose childcare centers closed, leaving them without may options for child care. This is a scary time to be without child care.”
Quality child care, advocates say, is essential for a robust economy. It is also, Western New York Women's Foundation executive director Sheri Scavone says, a social, gender and racial justice issue.
"Seventy-one percent of women work outside the home. Forty-one percent of those women are the sole or primary breadwinner for the family," Scavone said. "Women of color are more likely to be the primary breadwinner and, as a result of decades of occupational and in residential segregation, are much less likely to have a job that provides any scheduling flexibility or the ability to work remotely. We know that 65% of working women are in jobs considered essential, including child care, and that the pandemic has had a disproportionate effect on women and particularly our Black and brown sisters."
Now there's the concern for additional need for child care. With a new school year looming, many parents are unsure how to balance working with child care, given the extraordinary circumstances this fall.
"I'm a parent as well and as we're all thinking about what school is going to look like, we're realizing it's even more critical than it would normally be, because we don't even know a lot," she said. "You know, the Buffalo Public Schools aren't operating (in class) and so there's 19,000 children who might need child care. We have a situation where there's hybrid learning or completely remote learning in many of these school districts. So parents are struggling with the idea of how are we going to get to their jobs and be able to take care of their children at the same time."
Justifying further funding for childcare programs, advocates say that the return on investment is about $1.86 back to the community in exchange for every dollar spent.