Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is calling on business leaders on Long Island and across the state to help create more quality, affordable child care.
His administration is also considering a pilot program to offer government-funded child care for all, with fees based on families' ability to pay, state officials said. The shortage of affordable care is undermining worker productivity, they said.
Child care is as important to economic growth as well-maintained highways, mass transit and telecommunications systems, Cuomo’s human services secretary Kerri Neifeld told a meeting of the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council on Friday. However, she said, “there is a lack of child care, and it’s making it difficult [for women] to be in the workforce in a meaningful way — and we want to change that.”
Cuomo wants the Long Island council and nine other councils statewide to recommend early childhood education programs for Albany to fund.
The councils are “to work with local businesses and communities to identify child care needs and develop potential solutions for those needs,” Alison Walsh, the councils' point person at Empire State Development, the state’s primary business-aid agency, said at the local council's meeting at Hofstra University in Hempstead.
The councils, made up of business executives, educators, nonprofit officials and union leaders, each year vie for up to $760 million in state tax credits and grants by recommending projects for funding. Every year the governor outlines priorities, and this year’s include day care services.
In Nassau and Suffolk counties, there are 82,000 “regulated slots” for preschoolers in licensed day care programs, but 65,000 more are needed, according to the state Child Care Availability Task Force, which was established last year.
Neifeld said the Canadian province of Quebec offers a potential solution. In 1997 the Quebec government began offering child care for all, with fees determined by families' ability to pay. The program increased the number of women returning to work by more than 60 percent and boosted tax income to the point where the program is now self-supporting.
“We’d like to start a pilot program in a region or county,” she said.
Kelli Owens, director of women’s affairs for Cuomo, urged the Long Island council to view day care services as key to economic development.
“If you have a child care infrastructure, it will help you recruit businesses, but it will also increase your labor force participation,” she said.
The local council recognizes that the lack of affordable child care is holding Nassau and Suffolk back, council co-vice chairman Kevin Law said. That’s why the council last year endorsed a new $1.5 million building for the Bridgehampton Child Care & Recreation Center, which ultimately won $300,000 in state funding.
“We’re going to redouble our efforts,” said Law, who is also president of the Long Island Association business group. “Workers and employers are talking about it all the time — the need for more affordable child care.”
Only 10 percent of 4-year-olds on the Island have access to full-day, state-funded prekindergarten programs, according to a group of early-childhood experts that includes the three regional BOCES districts and child care councils in Nassau and Suffolk counties.
Most pre-K offerings in the two-county region, where available, are half-day and last about 2.5 hours. By contrast, New York City offers access to a full-day, funded program for all 4-year-olds.
Last week the Long Island council set up a “working group” on child care. Aid applications are due by July 26 at 4 p.m.