In this election, we have already heard that we have a childcare crisis with the focus on costs to families. Currently, there is approximately $30 million set aside by the State in federal CARES Act funding and under $50 million in the 2021 NY State Budget for tuition subsidies statewide. While subsidizing tuition helps, what we have not heard is how we will help our childcare providers with their cost of doing business or having enough space to meet community needs.
Last week I had an opportunity to meet with four directors of local childcare centers. They love their work and are doing everything they can to keep their centers running as we start the phased reopening, but they are concerned about whether they will be able to continue operating for more than a few months. Mandated smaller class sizes and PPE to keep children and staff safe are needed but where will the money come from to keep their centers open? Tuition assistance alone is not enough.
Some of the problems they described, such as healthcare costs for employees, existed before COVID-19, and some, like the costs for safety equipment and testing, are new. If we want people to go back to work without having an overwhelmingly negative effect on women in our workforce, and if we agree on the importance of early childhood education for the development of our children, we must help our childcare centers survive. It is important to help them lower the cost of operations in a way that does not hurt childcare workers and that does not compromise safety.
Allowing childcare centers to form a healthcare consortium or join an existing healthcare consortium would help. Right now, they cannot do either, so their healthcare costs are burdensome. In the age of COVID, the last thing we want is to have our childcare workers go without health insurance. Of course, a consortium would not be needed if the New York Health Act were enacted into law, because single-payer healthcare would decouple healthcare costs from employment and dramatically cut healthcare costs for employers.
With class sizes reduced because of social distancing, childcare centers cannot serve as many families as they did pre-COVID unless they reconfigure their spaces. This costs money, and we must be creative because smaller classes mean less revenue. One way to solve this problem would be to help childcare centers with costs of remodeling and construction to reconfigure their space not only to allow them to go back to pre-COVID levels, but also to allow them to accept more children into their programs and hire more workers when social distancing requirements are relaxed.
This approach would solve the immediate space issue problem caused by COVID and solve the problem of not having enough space in our childcare system to serve the needs of our community before COVID. In addition, it would also create more construction jobs. So, by helping our childcare centers reconfigure and expand, we will solve two problems.
Where will the money come from to do this? It could come from several sources, all of which could also help the state close its budget gap and pay for other needs, such as fully funding our K-12 public school system. These sources include repealing the stock transfer tax rebate, a Billionaire’s Wealth Tax, an Ultramillionaire’s Tax, and a Pied-à-Terre Tax. Even before our COVID crisis, these taxes should have been implemented to reduce the shortfall in the state budget rather than cutting funding to education and healthcare.
There are real, tangible things that can be done to provide for our children’s education. One of the most important things we can do is to help our childcare centers survive COVID-19. We must not stop there. Instead, we must plan for our post-COVID future, and help our childcare centers thrive when the crisis has passed. We owe it to our children and their caregivers to get this done.
Jason M. Leifer, Esq.
Town of Dryden Supervisor and candidate for New York State Assembly District 125