States raise money for childcare as congressional efforts stall

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ALBANY, NY — Difficulty finding affordable childcare cost Enoshja Ruffin her job three years ago. The mother of six was fired from her job as a counselor for children with cerebral palsy after missing three shifts because she had trouble finding babysitters.

But after being on a waiting list for three months, she placed her children in a daycare center whose costs were covered by government grants and the center’s financial aid program.

“If I hadn’t received financial aid, I wouldn’t be successful. I wouldn’t have a degree. I’d just be another statistic,” said Ruffin, 28, of Utica, New York, who was able to attend classes while her kids were in daycare. She now works as an organizer for the liberal Citizen Action group.

Democrats in Washington this year had big ambitions to increase childcare subsidies nationally as part of a broad domestic spending bill. But when those plans stalled due to a lack of bipartisan support, some states went ahead with their own plans.

New York lawmakers passed a state budget in the spring calling for $7 billion to be spent on making childcare more affordable over the next four years.

The legislation doubles previous state aid for government grants that help families meet some or all of their childcare costs. The eligibility will be extended to more middle-income families. Under the new rules, a family of four with an annual household income of up to $83,250 is eligible for grants.

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New Mexico last spring raised its subsidy-eligible income to the highest level of any state. A family of four with an annual household income of up to $111,000 can now qualify for at least some government aid. Until June 2023, New Mexico will also waive childcare benefits, saving families $400 to $900 per month, based on their income level.

Rhode Island lawmakers last month approved a state budget that provides a one-time tax credit of $250 per child to help pay for childcare, nearly doubles the number of places available in state-funded pre-kindergarten programs and provides grants to childcare workers.

All those steps were meant to address an affordability challenge. In 2019, daycare centers in the US charged an average of $406 per week for children under 18 months, $315 per week for children aged 18-35 months, and $289 per week for 3- to 5-year-olds.

Ronora James, a daycare in Rochester, New York, said she was losing staff to fast-food restaurants that offer competitive wages.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, child caregivers earned an average hourly wage of $13.22 in the US in May 2021. The minimum wage in New York ranges from $13.20 to $15 per hour, depending on the part of the state.

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“People have to go where the money is to survive, and that’s a problem for us,” James said.

“In New York City, we have some of the highest minimum wages in the country, but a minimum wage worker has to work 26 weeks at minimum wage to pay for childcare for his family,” New York Governor Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, said during Monday. an event that promotes state investment in childcare. “That’s asking too much of our families.”

While childcare has gained increasing bipartisan support in recent years, some Republican leaders are cautious about expanding government support.

“I support steps to create more quality, accessible and reliable childcare options, especially as costs continue to rise,” William Barclay, the leader of New York’s GOP Assembly Minority, said in a statement. “But as we have seen repeatedly in state programs, the level of spending and the way funds are distributed must be closely monitored. Too often, state-run programs get out of hand and fail to deliver the intended services. Despite the governor’s high promises, we can’t let that happen here.”

New York legislation also increased state fees to childcare providers, which the industry believes was necessary to keep centers financially viable.

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According to Pete Nabozny, policy director at The Children’s Agenda, the number of childcare centers in the state has shrunk by about 1,326 since January 2020. Most of those programs are run by women and people of color, he said.

Some New York legislators say they will eventually make childcare available for free as early as kindergarten. sen. Jessica Ramos and Assembly Member Sarah Clark, both Democrats, said they hope to get support in the state’s next legislative session for more changes, including expanding eligibility even more and raising wages for providers.

“I think daycare is one of the few places where it’s hard to fix any of it. You have to fix the whole system at once. I hope we can build on what we’ve done so far and do more,” Clark said.

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Maysoon Khan is a corps member for the The Bharat Express News/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a national, not-for-profit service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on classified issues. Follow Maysoon Khan on Twitter.

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