Long Island child care providers, who've struggled with declining enrollment and rising expenses since the start of the pandemic, can receive a portion of nearly $2 billion heading to the state from the federal stimulus bill, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Wednesday.
The American Rescue Plan allocates $40 billion nationwide for child care providers and working parents. New York will receive $1.8 billion, with Long Island, based on its population, getting a significant portion of those dollars, said Schumer (D-N.Y.).
"Child care is so important on Long Island as it everywhere else," Schumer said outside Marks of Excellence Child Care in Amityville. "It's vital to our lives. It's vital dealing with the COVID crisis and it's vital to getting out of the COVID crisis."
Unless child care centers were caring for the children of health care workers, first responders and other essential workers, many had no choice but to temporarily close during the height of the pandemic. And while most have since reopened, Long Island has lost about 80 of its 1,700 child care providers since early 2020, according to Nassau and Suffolk child care councils.
Many parents, who suddenly found themselves unemployed or working from home, could not afford child care or declined it for safety reasons, advocates said.
"As a working mom I understand how important child care is for my family and many others," said Nicole Passarella, whose son Dylan, 4, attends Tutor Time in Massapequa. "The American Rescue Plan funding will keep child care centers open and safe for Dylan and many other kids across Long Island."
The bill provides $1.1 billion through the Childcare Stabilization Fund to facilities that stayed open — and others that were forced to close — to cover salaries, rent, personal protective equipment, training and mental health services.
The Child Care and Development Block Grant, also in the bill, provides $705 million that can be allocated to providers based on enrollment, as opposed to attendance. The state can also use the money to provide child care subsidies to families, including essential workers, Schumer said.
Jennifer Rojas, executive director of the Child Care Council of Suffolk, called the legislation "the most remarkable moment" in her 25-year career.
Child care facilities and their employees "risked their lives at the start of this pandemic without knowing the true cost of what it would mean to keep operating," Rojas said. "But they did and now it's their time to be rewarded."
Alicia Marks, owner of Marks of Excellence, said the funds are desperately needed.
"We can no longer do more with less," she said. "The costs for PPE and payroll have been astronomical. We were already suffocating and hanging on the proverbial thread … Our families and children depend on us and we want to be here to take care of them."