TROY — A $50 billion federal fund for child care would stabilize the essential industry, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said Monday, highlighting the urgent need in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The child care industry needs critical support, Gillibrand and Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul said during a news conference outside the Unity House of Troy, 2431 Sixth Ave., late Monday morning.
Congress must invest $50 billion in grants for child care facilities nationwide, Gillibrand said, renewing her call to use the money to create a child care stabilization fund by passing the Child Care is Essential Act. Child care providers are essential, the senator and lieutenant governor said, adding providers are struggling to financially remain afloat as they operate with reduced capacity and limited revenue.
It would cost an estimated $9.6 billion per month to keep the nation’s current child care providers in business.
“In more than half of our states, the average cost of a year of child care is more than a year of in-state college tuition,” Gillibrand said. “The industry is on the brink of collapse.”
About half of child care providers have closed because of the pandemic, leading to a loss of more than 4 million spaces for child care and making it increasingly more difficult for families to return to the workplace. The state’s child care ability could be cut in half from one slot open for every four children down to one available for every eight children.
“That will hurt parents getting back to work,” the U.S. senator said.
Child care providers could use the grant funding to secure the necessary personal protective equipment, cleaning and other supplies to safely reopen and prevent the spread of COVID-19. The federal coronavirus relief bill in the CARES Act included $3.5 billion in funding for child care providers through Child Care and Development Block Grants, which secured child care for frontline health care workers and essential employees.
Grants would be available to licensed, regulated or registered child care providers currently open or temporarily closed due to COVID-19, according to a statement Monday from Gillibrand’s office. The funding can be used for operating expenses, to pay staff, tuition relief for families and ensuring providers have the necessary resources to comply with state and federal public health guidance.
“Child care is the linchpin that keeps the wheels of our economy turning,” Gillibrand said. “The Child Care is Essential Act will ensure all working families are able to afford and access high-quality child care.”
Lt. Gov. Hochul said Monday child care impacts all New York families.
“This conversation should no longer be a woman’s problem — it is a problem for the state and the nation,” Hochul said. “Support for states to assist child care centers is absolutely essential, or the economy will not come back on all cylinders.”
Hochul called for federal aid to be sent to states and localities, including counties and municipalities that provide essential services necessary to keep combating the pandemic in New York — child care included.
“We need it now,” she said. “Our mayors and county executives can’t do their jobs. ... This is not just a blue-state problem anymore. You have the ability to solve it and childcare has to be at the top of the agenda. Otherwise, we will have a crisis — a collision course when children go back to schools.”
Gillibrand and U.S. Rep. Joe Morelle, D-25, sent a letter to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention on Friday requesting the federal agency work directly with child care facilities to inform workers and provide more clarity on reopening guidelines as many facilities struggle to afford to implement the guidance to safely reopen.
“They need support and they need clear guidance,” Gillibrand said Monday. “Child care providers are committed to taking the necessary steps. Supplies like PPE, modifying classroom spaces... all of those cost money. Money our providers do not have.”
Gillibrand and Morelle urged the CDC to make its reopening guidelines for child care providers more clear to ensure facilities reopen safely and resolve disparities between state and federal guidance, including recommendations about alternating, half days or reduced schedules, appropriate classroom set up and the use of the term “space.”
“Providers have requested there be additional clarification and coordination between federal and state guidelines for child care to ensure providers are in compliance with all best practices to protect children, families and staff,” according to the letter. “Child care is essential to our national economic recovery and the individual economic recovery of all families, in particular, those who have been hit hardest by the economic impacts of the pandemic.”
One of the disparities includes CDC guidance about using face shields when caring for infants or toddlers. Child care providers have noted the critical importance of eye contact, touch, expressions and speech to infants and toddlers for proper development and communication, according to the bicameral letter.
Unity House of Troy, which offers housing and domestic violence services and support for people living with AIDS, developmental disabilities and other needs met by the service center. Since April, Unity House has provided child care for essential workers, including doctors, nurses, transit and grocery store employees, earlier this spring through the trajectory of New York’s coronavirus outbreak.
“Unity House of Troy is grateful for Sen. Gillibrand’s call for support to stabilize the childcare sector,” Unity House CEO Chris Burke said. “Having provided day care and preschool and children’s programs for almost 50 years, we know that ensuring children a safe start makes the difference in their lives. We also know, especially now, that childcare is the key to employment for parents and that employment is key to economic rejuvenation.”
Gillibrand has several bills in Washington aimed at addressing child care across the state and nation and co-sponsors the Child Care for Working Families Act to establish tax credits for day care for low-income families, universal pre-K covered for all 3- and 4-year-olds and increased funding to Head Start programs. The senator also introduced the PROSPECT Act, or Preparing and Resourcing Our Student Parents and Early Childhood Teachers Act, with $9 billion in grant programs for infant and toddler care at little to no cost for low-income parents attending community college.
“We have a really robust agenda for it,” she said. “Child care providers stepped up when we needed them. Now we need to step up for them.”