On her 100th day in office, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a law that aims to tackle one of the most persistent sources of stress and trauma for children: Poverty.
The Child Poverty Reduction Act — signed Wednesday and passed by a nearly unanimous Legislature in June amid the devastation of the pandemic — aims to reduce child poverty by 50% within the next 10 years.
The law tackles this societal ill by identifying policies that will expand direct assistance to low-income parents, such as increased tax credits and better access to publicly funded child care.
The law, which takes effect immediately, received praise from leaders of statewide advocacy groups who worked for its passage, including Kate Breslin, president and CEO of the Schuyler Center for Analysis and Advocacy.
“By signing this bill into law, Governor Hochul has boldly set the expectation that New York will intentionally, significantly, and consistently cut child poverty, year over year,” Breslin wrote. “Beyond that, and just as important, the law holds policymakers publicly accountable for whether and how policy and budget decisions affect children living in poverty.”
The law calls for the creation of a Child Poverty Reduction Advisory Council, with at least 16 members charged with researching methods to reduce child poverty, analyzing how children are impacted by new state policies and budgets, and issuing regular reports to the public on the state’s actions and progress. Within six months, the advisory council must outline a 10-year plan for reducing child poverty, analyze the effectiveness and cost-benefit of a bevy of policy proposals, and recommend changes to existing government programs that could have more immediate results. The task force’s first meeting must occur within 60 days, falling shortly after the governor releases her budget priorities for the coming year.
Across New York, about one out of every five children lived in poverty even before the pandemic, 2019 census data shows. That amounts to nearly 800,000 children, half of whom live in New York City. In the Bronx, about 40% of kids grow up in poverty, while in Buffalo the figure is about 45%. Rochester, too, has long struggled with child poverty.
Many children in smaller cities and rural New York also grow up in families that lack essential resources to care for them. In 2019, child poverty reached at least 25% in nine counties outside major metro areas, ranging from the North Country to the Catskills and the Finger Lakes, according to data compiled by the New York Council on Children and Families.
Child welfare leaders say the deprivations of poverty — unstable housing, lack of food and limited child care — are too often conflated with “child neglect,” which lands struggling families under the surveillance of authorities and their children removed into foster care. In New York, roughly 3 out of 5 substantiated allegations of maltreatment are for parental neglect, rather than physical or sexual abuse.
As the new council prepares its recommendations, the law directs it to consider policies that could alleviate racial and ethnic disparities in the poverty rate. Recent census data shows that Black children in New York are twice as likely to suffer poverty as white children. And 37% of children in foster care are Black, although they represent only 17% of the state’s youth population.
Among the policy changes the advisory council overseeing the new anti-poverty law must consider is a proposal to expand the state child tax credit to children under 4 years old, and to remove the minimum-income threshold to receive the credit. Advisors must also examine the impact of adjusting the state earned income tax credit to align with the minimum wage, and disbursing it quarterly rather than once a year. Expanded access to subsidized housing, child care and job training programs will also be evaluated for their potential to reduce the number of children living in poverty.
The council has one year to complete and submit its recommendations for achieving the 50% reduction in child poverty to the governor. Twice a year, members must release a report detailing the state’s progress in enacting recommended changes.
Advisory council members will include representatives from the Office of Children and Family Services and the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, as well as two members who are directly impacted by poverty.
The bill was sponsored by Assemblymember Harry Bronson (D) of Rochester and state Sen. Jessica Ramos (D) of Queens. Celebrating the bill’s passage on Twitter, Ramos emphasized that the bill is just the beginning of her larger mission of expanding support for children and families.
“This is a major step in my goal of bringing Universal Child Care to NYS,” Ramos tweeted. “There’s no such thing as someone else’s child — the well-being of NY’s children needs to be all our priorities.”