WEOS Finger Lakes Public Radio

Business leaders warn of child care crisis

Sep 30, 2020
Originally published on September 29, 2020 3:49 pm

New York’s business leaders are among those warning that the state’s child care system is broken and on the verge of collapse, and they are calling for emergency and long term relief from the state and federal governments.

The state’s Business Council President, Heather Briccetti, says a survey conducted on behalf of employers and child care advocates finds that the pandemic is squeezing an already struggling system. Workers who may have been laid off or are working at reduced hours have less money to pay for care. Many providers have closed, and one in four of the remaining child care centers say they are at risk of shutting down for good in the next six months, as the cope with new safety requirements and cleaning protocols. Briccetti says 50% of businesses say lack of child care is a burden for their companies and for their employees. The problem is particularly acute among business leaders of color.

“This is clearly a key issue to businesses across the state,” Briccetti said.

The shortage is leading to increased absenteeism, reduced productivity, and higher turnover of workers.

Christine Sharkey, President of Corning Enterprises,  says the childcare shortage affects the company’s ability to “attract and retain talent”. She says more comprehensive child care would also help her employees and their children’s chances for success.  

Dede Hill is with the Schuyler Center for Analysis and Advocacy, which is also part of the coalition, led by the Education Trust- New York, says the pressures are increasing as schools across the state reopen.  She says many children only attend in person learning for part of the week. At the same time, many parents are required to return to their workplaces.

“Many children are attending school virtually or in a hybrid fashion,” Hill said, at a time when parents are facing additional challenges to provide more coverage for their school aid children, as well as for babies and toddlers.

Melodie Baker, with the Erie-Niagara Birth to Eight Coalition, says the childcare system was neglected before Covid, and the pandemic has only widened the fault lines. She says when she was growing up, her mother was a day care provider.

“I remember getting up at 6 o clock in the morning, and a lot of times we wouldn’t close down until about 7:30 PM,” Baker said.

Yet Baker says her mother earned so little at the business that she and her siblings qualified for the free lunch program at school.

“What does that tell you?” she said.

Over 90% of businesses asked say more government funding is needed, and 75% support investment in affordable preschool child for children aged three and younger.

But Briccetti, with the Business Council, says employers do not support higher corporate taxes to help pay for that. She says businesses are also coping with their own financial pressures due to the pandemic, and the federal government is best equipped to help, with another pandemic relief package.  

“I don’t think that focusing on one particular group to increase taxes is the solution,” Briccetti said.

She says businesses would welcome tax incentives to help employers subside their workers costs or create partnerships with child care centers to enact a sustainable system long term.

There is some aide for child care still available through prior federal aid packages, and over 4000 child care providers in the state have applied for funding, though advocates say the process is lengthy and cumbersome. A second round of $88 million dollars in grants will be released shortly.

But, ultimately, the business leaders and the advocates say, the federal government needs to act again to provide enough funds to make up for the billions of dollars in economic losses due to the pandemic.

They support provisions in a bill by Democrats, who lead the House of Representatives that includes $57 billion dollars for child care subsidies.  Speaker Nancy Pelosi is negotiating with President Trump’s administration, but so far, Republicans who lead the Senate are not on board.

Copyright 2020 WXXI News. To see more, visit WXXI News.