On Friday, the two chambers of the New York State Legislature announced they will press Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul for more than $3 billion in child care funding in the next state budget — a historic investment in working families and early childhood education.
The agreement, first reported by the NY1 news outlet, comes as each chamber of the Legislature prepares to detail its spending priorities in an official “one-house” budget.
The release of the two budget documents will kick off fast-paced negotiations between the Senate Majority Leader, Assembly Speaker and the governor. In January, Hochul proposed a $216 billion state spending plan, an increase of 2% over last year.
The final state budget must be adopted by March 31.
The Legislature is proposing the largest-ever child care investment in New York history. But the proposal is shy of the $5 billion called for in a universal child care bill sponsored by Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi and Sen. Jabari Brisport, the Democratic chairs of each chamber’s Committee on Children and Families.
Supporters of the bill welcomed the agreement, while acknowledging that it falls short of the goal of free child care for all families across the state.
“Obviously $5 billion would have had the maximum benefit, but we have to live in the world of compromise and I think $3 billion is a great start,” said Assemblymember Michaelle Solages, who chairs the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Caucus. “It’s a number that shows that we’re serious about solving this child care crisis.”
The funding would build on last year’s $2.4 billion investment in child care, which was buoyed by a massive influx of one-time federal pandemic relief. Nearly half of that amount went toward stabilizing child care centers on the brink of closing. Roughly a third created subsidized spots for 10,000 more children.
Assemblymember Hevesi used glowing terms to describe the circumstances that made this year’s proposal possible: Democrats hold supermajorities in both chambers, the governorship is held by a longtime advocate for families, and the state’s finances have benefited from higher-than-expected tax revenues and billions of dollars in federal pandemic aid.
“Right now everyone who makes decisions is an ally, plus we have a good economy,” Hevesi told The Imprint. “This is like Halley’s Comet — it only happens once every so often.”
Child care is just one of several proposals endorsed by Hevesi and Brisport that are meant to stabilize families and keep kids safe, particularly those in the most vulnerable homes.
Historically, efforts to secure funds for foster care prevention and caregivers have faced difficulty garnering attention and backing in the budget. The needs of children caught up in the child welfare system are often drowned out by larger, louder constituencies. And the system’s dizzying complexity can be just as confounding to lawmakers as it is to the children, parents and caregivers that it affects.
“This lack of awareness contributes to a vicious cycle in child welfare, resulting in systemic underfunding,” said Crystal Charles, a policy analyst at the Schuyler Center for Analysis and Advocacy in Albany. She noted that the lack of attention at the state level often means there is little sense of urgency until the federal government takes action, a dynamic she said needs to change.
In December, Hevesi and Brisport attempted to break that cycle by introducing a package of budget proposals called the Children and Families Reinvestment Act. In addition to universal child care and restoring the state rate for foster care prevention, the package proposed:
- Increasing funding for the New York State Kinship Navigator to $10 million
- Expanding the Empire State Child Tax Credit to include children younger than 4
- Funding the Kinship Guardianship Assistance subsidy program separately from foster care
- Creating a state Child and Family Wellbeing Fund to fund community-based family supports
The Assembly and Senate are expected to release their official one-house budget resolutions over the weekend or early next week.
Assemblymember Solages said the constructive tone of this year so far left her optimistic on behalf of the state’s children and families.
“There are many issues that divide us, but this year it seems like people want to work together for the common good,” she said. “We all want to get to the point where we’re actually investing in communities and in solutions.”