December 2, 2021

Local child care providers skeptical about state budget

Child care in state budget

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

One-year-old Nicholas Peters plays with lead teacher Nicole Meeker after naptime Friday at the Child Development Center on Friday in Cortland. The Cortland YWCA oversees two child care centers — Here We Grow and Learning Adventure.

A proposal by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to appoint a task force to redesign child care services in New York has promise, Cortland child-care providers say, but other gubernatorial plans won’t help families.

The task force Cuomo outlined in his State of the State would examine access to affordable child care, incentives to businesses to help, and tax deductions and credits for child care.

And that’s all good, said Kelly Tobin, executive director of the YWCA, and Elin Pantas, deputy director of the Child Development Center on Pomeroy Street in Cortland. But that doesn’t solve the problems caused by an increase in the minimum wage eventually to $15 an hour, which will cost Cortland child-care providers $90,000 this year. And another Cuomo proposal to continue a child-care tax credit that serves families making up to $60,000 a year doesn’t help most of the families the two agencies serve.

“Many of our families don’t make anywhere near that, and tuition can be over $200 a week,” Pantas said Monday. “And they need money up front, they don’t need it on the back end when they’re filling out their taxes.

Tobin — whose agency overseestwo child care centers, Here We Grow and Learning Adventure — and Pantas would rather see an increase in eligibility for subsidies for child care, now available to families who make up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level — $49,200 a year for a family of four in 2017.

“Many families don’t qualify for subsidy dollars by just a little bit, like $80 a year,” Tobin said.

“One of the challenges is you can make this much money and not a penny more,” said Sue Dale-Hall, executive director of the Child Development Council, which provides child-care referrals and support services in Cortland and Tompkins counties. “And where does that leave you with your child, paying for care that you can’t afford?”

She also said the “cliff effect” of subsidies needs to be addressed.

The plans to form a task force come as a minimum wage increase will pressure the child care centers. “The only way we can support that (salary increase) is to pass that increase on to working families who utilize the day care centers, because that’s how we make our money,” said Jami Bistocchi, the YWCA child-care director.

“We are creating wages in our community that can’t keep pace with the expenses that are necessary to keep their children in quality programs,” Pantas said.

While the minimum wage increase means extra money to pay the bills for some families, it won’t serve others whose wages are high enough not to qualify for subsidies but low enough that paying about $200 a week is a burden, Tobin said.

That’s a dilemma that Pantas and Tobin hope the task force can address. “The system hasn’t been working for some time,” Tobin said. “The minimum wage increase is not allowing working families to have access to affordable child care.”

Dale-Hall said she would like to see the resumption of state-provided stipends for child-care providers who met educational requirements, helping centers provide qualified staff.

Pantas said other countries subsidize child care costs at a rate according to the parents’ income to a higher level than in the United States.

“Other countries have figured out how to do it, but the money is going to have to come from somewhere and we’re very territorial about how we spend money in this country,” Pantas said.

Dale-Hall said eligibility requirements for government funding programs are so compartmentalized it’s difficult for a center to qualify. It would be helpful if those resources were available to a broader array of centers.

Pantas said one option could be creating an umbrella authority that would manage all the child care centers in a community and seek grants on their behalf — funding streams she hopes are made available.

Pantas said she’s willing to help the task force, but isn’t sure how.

“We have a lot of experience, we’ve been doing this over 40 years and it would be a shame to lose this facility,” Pantas said. “We think within a few years something has to be done or you are going to see doors closing.”