ITHACA, N.Y. — Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul joined local representatives in calling for increased child care funding in New York State during a visit to Ithaca Monday afternoon.

Appearing at the Downtown Ithaca Children’s Center, Gillibrand spoke about her plans to push for the Child Care is Essential Act in the next COVID-19 economic relief package. The bill would provide about $50 billion that would go toward anything a child care provider needs to operate at full capacity over the next five months, including covering the cost of rent and mortgage, utility payments or health and safety equipment.

“Child care truly is the linchpin to keep the wheels of our economy moving and will be absolutely essential to our ability to reopen,” she said. “Throughout this crisis, child care providers have been the essential workers behind the essential workers. … They really stepped up for us when needed, and now it’s time for us to step up for them.”

In March, the Senate passed the original Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. As part of the federal CARES Act, $65 million in grants were made available for child care providers to reopen statewide through the New York Forward Child Care Expansion Incentive program

Senate Republicans released the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection, and Schools Act (HEALS) Act on July 27. The HEALS Act is made up of a series of proposals from other Republican senators that allocated $306 billion to focus specifically on reopening schools, prioritizing jobs and providing additional healthcare resources.

Congress has until Aug. 7 to decide on the proposal before it goes into its annual August recess for four weeks.

“We need support in our senate to bring direct money to these providers and take a burden off of families that’s going on right now. If that does not happen, we will be on a collision course,” Hochul said. “The economy needs to get started, people need to get back to work, but there’s no one there to watch the kids and women will be the one staying home. That’s already happening. Women have already had to be set back. That’s not sustainable in our country, that’s not sustainable in the state of New York.”

Gillibrand also said that in the long-term, she will be advocating for the Child Care for Working Families Act, which will ensure that anyone who is working paycheck to paycheck or has a low-income job will have access to affordable daycare.

Downtown Ithaca Child Care has reopened amid the pandemic, but executive director Denise Gomber said that while the local and federal support has been helpful, it is not sustainable moving forward. During the pandemic, child care providers need to acquire personal protective equipment, reduce class sizes, modify classroom spaces, sanitize, adjust staff and pay staff more.

“We’re working toward a regaining phase of those best practices and new practices, and with help and support and the right actions, we’re looking at sustainability,” Gomber said. “It’s such a critical time. It’s a time for our community to look at those who have and those who do not have and to make sure that there’s affordable and equitable care for everyone.”

The average annual cost for infant care in New York is $15,394, and the average annual cost for child care is $12,358. Infant care in the state costs 93.9% more per year than in-state tuition for four-year public college, according to the Economic Policy Institute. The United States Department of Health and Human Services says that child care should not cost more than 7% of a family’s income, but for a minimum-wage worker, it takes up approximately 67% of their income in New York.

“I really fear for the future of child care,” Sue Dale-Hall, CEO of the Child care Development Council, said. “Child care has been sitting on a financial fault line for a very long time. We know that parents can’t pay more, and some parents can’t afford it at all, and that’s just not right.”

In Tompkins County, there are over 80-day care facilities. However, there was only one slot for every three preschoolers who needed child care in the county. 

Gillibrand said that the child care industry will need $9.6 billion each month to provide assistance for daycare centers to stay in business. Without federal assistance, 4.5 million child care slots throughout the country may be lost, which means that the availability of child care in the state would drop from one slot for every four children who need it to one slot for every eight children who need it.

“That will keep tens of thousands of parents from going back to work and doing their jobs,” Gillibrand said. “It hurts their families and the U.S. economy. We need these providers to be able to reopen and reopen safely, but in order to do that, they need clear guidelines. They don’t have clear guidelines, and they also need resources, they don’t have that.”

In addition to the high cost, a problem that has been apparent since before the COVID-19 pandemic, Hochul said that this has only amplified the struggles that women face when it comes to child care. The majority of healthcare workers are women, and the responsibility of being a caretaker or finding child care has traditionally fallen on women throughout history.

“What’s happening to their children when they go in and make sure that we’re taken care of in our hospitals, or that we can check out and buy groceries? Who’s watching the kids? It’s not a new problem, but it is now a problem on steroids.as a result of this pandemic,” Hochul said.

Gillibrand urged the public to elect more women to have issues like these addressed.

“It’s really important to have mothers in office, or women, or people who understand these dynamics and are willing to fight for them harder,” she said. “Congress is still woefully 25 percent female. We need to be 51 percent like the rest of the population, and we need that to include diverse women, women of color, so we can actually represent all the needs of this country effectively.”

Earlier in July, Rep. Tom Reed visited the Ithaca Community Child care Center to announce plans to vote on funding for child care centers in the coming weeks.

Leslie Danks Burke, the Democratic nominee running for the New York State Senate’s 58th district currently held by state Sen. Tom O’Mara, echoed these sentiments and called for assistance to the child care industry.

“It is the single greatest challenge to rebooting our economy,” she said. “Here in the Southern Tier and the Finger Lakes, we have to reboot our economy. We’ve been left behind for four decades. We didn’t come out of the last recession, and if we can’t fix this, we can’t fix anything.”

Madison Fernandez

Madison Fernandez is a contributing reporter at the Ithaca Voice. You can reach her by email at mfernandez@ithacavoice.com.