ALBANY — A little-noticed bill in the State Legislature inspired by a Long Island candidate who won a change in federal campaign rules would allow state and local politicians to use campaign funds to pay for child care expenses and potentially usher more young parents into politics.
The law would enable more people to run for state and local office by avoiding the high out-of-pocket cost of additional day care on a tight household budget, said Sen. Shelley Mayer (D-Yonkers), a sponsor of the bill. Once elected, these young parents will provide a greater understanding of the needs of struggling young families with children, supporters said.
"Child care costs are already too burdensome for many households," Mayer said. "These costs should not prohibit qualified candidates from running for public office. We need more young people, young mothers and fathers, running for public office. We need their voices and experiences represented in local and state government."
The bill restricts the use of campaign funds to day care expenses that “are incurred as a direct result of campaign activity.” No tax dollars or public money would be used.
The measure passed 60-0 in the Senate last week in bipartisan support that even surprised the bill’s sponsor. “The fact that the bill passed like it did is pretty remarkable,” Mayer said.
The Senate vote gives more traction for the bill in the Assembly.
“I authored and introduced this bill after seeing that on the federal level, child care expenses were ruled eligible to be paid for by campaign funds,” Assemb. Linda Rosenthal (D-Manhattan) said Friday. “I want to ensure that the same right is available by law to candidates on the state level.”
"A candidate’s decision to run affects the entire family, and this bill would ease some of the barriers that parents face when running for public office,” said Assemb. Yuh-Line Niou (D-Manhattan). “Many parents, especially mothers, do not feel like there is an opportunity for them because they have a family and responsibilities.”
The inspiration for the legislation was Liuba Grechen Shirley, an Amityville Democrat. She lost a 2018 race against Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), but not until after the mother of 2-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter persuaded the Federal Election Commission to change its policy for federal elections to allow campaign funds to be used for child care while campaigning.
The state legislation “goes beyond helping individuals,” Grechen Shirley said in an interview Friday. “This is going to change the way politics works in this country.”
And she said there was a lot to change. She said more women and young parents in office would be mean better legislation on issues including health care and education. She also said women candidates frequently are questioned about their children as if they were a drawback to a campaign, which can affect even the screening done by political bosses before campaigns begin. By comparison, young children are often seen as an asset to male politicians, she said.
“No one asks men how they are going to care for their children when they run for office, but when you are a woman that is the first question you are asked,” Grechen Shirley said. “I was asked constantly.”
New York would be the ninth state to pass a law that allows campaign funds to be used for child care during campaigning. The goal of Grechen Shirley's political action committee, Vote Mama, was 10 for this year.
“It’s only May and we’re almost there,” she said. “We will get it approved in every state … and we will have people who know what it’s like to have small children and need health care for them … this is a game changer that will change the way that young parents will get into office.”