‘Universal’ Child Care Would Exclude Most Parents in Manhattan

Governor Kathy Hochul and state legislators are poised to agree on an expanded child care subsidy that will still leave many New York City families unable to afford supervision for their children during their work days.

Hochul, working past an initial April 1 budget deadline, proposed a $1.4 billion subsidized child care program for families with incomes at or below 300 percent of the federal poverty, up from 200 percent currently.

But members of the Senate and Assembly want to more than double the subsidies to $3 billion to cover families earning as much as 400 percent of the U.S. poverty level. That would mean families of four with incomes of as high as $106,000 would be eligible for subsidized child care. This could lift 84,000 New Yorkers out of poverty, according to a partnership between the nonprofit group Robin Hood and Columbia University’s Center on Poverty and Social Policy.

“If we are to stop the rapid collapse of the childcare sector – upon which our entire economy rests – we cannot allow the governor to remove or delay even one dollar of this funding in the final budget,” said Senator Jabari Brisport, a Democrat who represents the 25th Senate District in Brooklyn and chairs the Committee on Children and Families. He is the sponsor of the Universal Child Care Act and is pushing for its full inclusion in the final budget.

Assemblymember Phara Souffrant Forrest, who represents District 57, which includes the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Fort Greene and Clinton Hill, supports $3 billion in spending with increases over the next two years as a path to universal child care. “This is about our working-class families,” she said.Our working parents need to know they can go to work, and their family is going to be taken care of."

Child care is unaffordable for half of New York City’s parents, according to Robin Hood and Columbia University’s Center on Poverty and Social Policy.

With the average household income in Manhattan is $137,976, most Manhattan families won’t reap the benefits of this expansion, even though an estimated 48 percent of the city’s “high-income families” cannot afford care, according to Robin Hood.

Jessica, who asked for first name address only, lives in Midtown Manhattan, near where she works as a retail industry executive, earns $150,000 a year. After deductions for retirement payments and taxes, she takes home $6,000 per month, 83% of which goes toward paying a daycare center for her 8-year-old and childcare an 8-month baby. That’s $60,000 per year on childcare.

“It should be by all measures, a very respectable salary,” she says. If it weren’t for her living in an apartment inherited from her mother, Jessica said she would be left with $2,000 each year after paying childcare expenses.

“I had no idea that my entire salary would be consumed with basically covering childcare,” says Jessica. “That idea blows my mind when I think about the fact that I am an educated, mid-level executive.” Moving out of the city isn’t an option because of her career in retail.

At her workplace, Jessica doesn’t qualify for the Dependent Care FSA (DCFSA), a pre-tax benefit account used to pay for eligible dependent care services, such as daycare, which is capped at $118,000 a year. “So, I am very much a middle-class human being in New York.”

In terms of subsidized child care, Jessica recognizes there are people “in more dire circumstances. But I do think that when you think about what middle class is, the definition of middle class in New York City is different from the definition of middle class in Fargo, North Dakota.” Trips with the kids would be the first thing she would invest in if she qualified for subsidized care.

Jessica Mendez, the mother of a 1 year old in East Harlem, earns $98,000 a year. She too won’t access subsidized care under the current proposals. She views the city’s childcare crisis through a lens of safety: there simply aren't adequate options for reliable and affordable care. Avoiding high prices feels like it's at the detriment of accessing regulated and reputable daycare centers. Factoring in the true costs incurred by providers to ensure “high-quality” is offered in the city, would drive up prices to $35,400 for infants and $27,600 for toddlers, according to a report by the Center for American Progress, a Washington-based research organization.

“Even dropping her off for two days was around $800,” she said. At present, 93 percent of families with young children cannot afford center-based care, according to the Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York.

“If I need to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches so that my child is safe, I don't mind,” Mendez said.

The cheaper options tend to be informal, she says, and one option is dropping her daughter off at a local childminder’s house would cost $150 a week. But this means a less-regulated environment.

“I need some type of peace of mind so that my daughter is safe,” she said. So instead, she pays her mother $350 a week to look after her child. “My mom doesn't have random people coming in and out of the house,” she said. But her mother has recently been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, causing chronic body pain, so she may not be able to provide full-time care in the future. Mendez isn’t sure how she’ll balance the demands of security versus affordability. And as it stands, the budget won’t be changing her options.

“There's movement around childcare for low-income families, but families at almost every income level are really struggling to afford childcare,” Gregory Brender, director of public policy at Day Care Council of New York Inc.