Albany, NY – Today, the Empire State Campaign for Child Care (ESCCC) invited a virtual panel of leading child care champions from federal, state and local governments to share their sense of “The 2022 Climate for Universal Child Care” on a virtual panel open to the public. ESCCC is a coalition of parents, providers, policy experts and advocacy organizations working to win affordable, equitable, quality child care for all children and working families in New York State. Over 250 people attended the event, which was also streamed on Facebook Live.

Three moderators—ESCCC leaders who represented key sectors impacted by the current child care crisis—served as moderators for the program, offering opening statements and later posing questions to the panelists. The event moderators included Sheri Scavone, who is the executive director at Western New York Women’s Foundation, Stevie Vargas, parent and upstate campaign coordinator at the Alliance for Quality Education and Serah Kaiel, who is a child care provider in New York City.

“Parents in New York State are struggling and we need help. Given the importance of child care in building prosperous communities and promoting racial, economic, and gender equity it is imperative that we create a child care system that works for all of us. This must be a top priority for everyone. We need a child care system that supports providers, parents, and children by making child care affordable, and accessible from birth. Universal child care and adequate compensation for the workforce in New York State not only helps our communities, but it is critical in achieving racial and economic equity,” said Stevie Vargas, child care advocate and parent who is directly impacted by child access and affordability. 

“One hundred and forty years after the establishment of the first child care center in the U.S., right here in New York, and with 78% of women with children under 18 now in the workforce — a majority as the family’s primary breadwinner — why have we not put a value on caregiving by funding it? Why have we not been bold and innovative to create a system that supports our children, working or training parents, child care professionals, businesses and our economy? Why can’t we see child care as essential workforce infrastructure? This is our moment TOGETHER — to put a stake in the ground, to transform what we have always known is needed to advance our society, to set NYS apart,” said Sheri Scavone, CEO, WNY Women’s Foundation. 

“Providers in all modalities of child care were struggling to remain open, recruit and retain staff, and meet the needs of children and families way before COVID. The rate of reimbursement –and related amounts we could charge families—was simply never enough to pay decent wages and meet operating costs. And the disproportionate  impact of the pandemic on Black, Latino, immigrant and low-income communities has been profound, compounded by underinvestment and structural racism rooted in existing social, economic and health systems . Recent temporary pandemic relief has been important, but the system remains fragile. Government funding tends to get out more quickly and more generously to the large and more sophisticated centers. And the roll out of Universal Pre-K, though helpful to parents, further destabilized early child care.  If we are to rebuild a strong system, these issues must be addressed,” said Gladys Jones, Executive Director, ECE on the Move, NYC.

The panelists were a  diverse group of federal, state and local leaders and child care champions, including Gayle Goldin, Senior Advisor, U.S. Department of Labor Women’s Bureau; Sheila J. Poole, Commissioner, New York State Office of Children and Family Services; Jabari Brisport, Chair, NYS Senate Committee on Children and Families; Andrew Hevesi, Chair, New York State Assembly Committee on Children and Families; Maria Whyte, Deputy County Executive, Erie County; and David Hansell, Commissioner, New York City Administration for Children’s Services.

“For more than 100 years, the U.S. the Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau has been advocating for expanding child care to allow more women to enter the workforce. While child care has always been an issue for working women, the pandemic has placed a spotlight on the need for universal child care. When we invest in child care, we are investing in our workforce and our future,” said Gayle Goldin, Senior Advisor, U.S. Department of Labor Women’s Bureau.

“New York State is investing an historic $2.4 billion in child care through federal coronavirus relief funds. This unprecedented investment has allowed our state to expand eligibility for child care subsidy, expand existing child care programs, create new capacity in underserved areas, and cover the cost of care for the families of essential workers along with making other critical improvements to child care infrastructure,” said Sheila J. Poole, Commissioner, New York State Office of Children and Family Services.“The challenge before us is creating a path forward that includes sufficient, predictable and sustainable funding not only for tomorrow but for our future.”

“Universal child care is a long overdue segment of our social infrastructure that will immediately strengthen our economy while lessening gender, race and class based inequities. We’re developing a universal child care program for New York in partnership with community organizations, parents, and providers, and I hope to see the same happen in every state,” said Senator Jabari Brisport, Chair, New York State Senate Committee on Children. 

“For New York City to fully recover from the pandemic, we must ensure that all families have the resources and support they need to stabilize their lives. Ensuring that thousands more children have access to low-cost child care, especially children from communities across the City hit hardest by the pandemic, is an essential step in NYC’s recovery for all.  I appreciate New York State’s and Commissioner Poole’s partnership and collaboration in these efforts and I want to thank Senator Brisport and Assemblymember Hevesi for introducing legislation needed to expand access to affordable child care,” said David A. Hansell, Commissioner, New York City Administration for Children’s Services.

“New York State has the opportunity to transform child care and improve the lives of children and families across the state by implementing universal child care. In addition to guaranteeing that children and families have access to care, we must also use this as an opportunity to improve the child care sector, increase wages for child care workers, and adequately pay providers for services. Every child deserves high quality care, families deserve to access this care regardless of their socioeconomic status, and the child care workforce deserves a true living wage. Our fight for universal child care aims to make these goals a reality,” said Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi, Chair of the Children and Families Committee.