Rally attendees in front of Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie's office in The Bronx. Credit: Smitha Varghese photo

Groups of New Yorkers, (a few of them child-bearing), traveled in a car caravan from The Bronx to Yonkers last Thursday calling on state politicians to allocate increased funding for universal child care.

Their trip across the northernmost borough and its outskirts started at Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s office on Gun Hill Road, and led to Andrea Stewart Cousins’ office in Yonkers. Parents, child care providers and advocates joined forces at this rally to send a message to both politicians: $5 billion should be considered for their state budget proposals, set to be announced any day now. Some participants at the rally said that while there was a good energy among the group, they were met with heavy police presence and not much word from or on behalf of either politician.

“There was a heavy police presence, which seemed very unorthodox,” said Mercy Badmos, a 29-year old mother of a toddler, who she had to bring with her to the rally. “I thought we were going to speak to a couple of assembly people and let them know why they need to sign off on $5 billion for childcare. They didn’t even let us in.”

Prior to the pandemic, Badmos was employed at the Center for Court Innovation but she lost her position during the lockdown. She ended up finding a new job, but had to leave because she could not find affordable child care. Badmos often has to rely on her elderly parents to babysit her son, but feels bad having to ask so frequently.

“Everytime I think about it I get upset that I’m in this situation,” said Badmos. “I just feel like I’m damned if I do, damned if I don’t.”

When Gov. Hochul announced her plans for child care funding during the State of the State Address in January, it included expanding access to care for up to 100,000 families. Her announcement also included an aid eligibility increase from 200% above the poverty level to 225% and $75 million to raise pay for child care workers.

Diana Limongi is the campaign director for MomsRising, a social welfare organization that tackles issues faced by women, mothers and families. Limongi herself is a mother of two from Queens, and said that the current plans from politicians are simply not enough given the cost of other expenses that come with raising a family.

“When you do the math and it’s $14,000 a year that you’re spending on child care, how does a person with minimum wage pay that,” said Limongi. “The numbers just don’t add up. You still have to pay for food or rent and all the other costs.”

Limongi adds that there is a reason why the dollar amount being advocated is crucial.

“It’s a problem all around which is why we want $5 billion because we want to make it affordable for all families and we also want there to be better living wages for the educators.”

“The $5 billion is getting us on the path towards universal child care, which means everyone can access childcare and for the state to be subsidizing child care providers at the true cost of care,” said Amshula Jayaram, a campaign director at Alliance for Quality Education.

Jayaram said that another part of universal child care should benefit child care providers as well, who are often subject to low wages when working in the sector. In December of 2021, a report drafted by the Office of Senator Jabari Brisport and the AQE highlighted several flaws in the child care system. According to the report, 65% of child care providers in New York receive wages that would qualify them for assistance programs such as food stamps or Medicaid.

In an attempt to reach Speaker Heastie regarding the calls for universal child care, Heastie’s press secretary Kerri Biche responded with a tentative press release that highlighted the details of a $3 billion plus investment in child care by the Assembly State Fiscal Year (SFY) 2022-23 Budget.

A press secretary for the NYS Senate sent Amsterdam News a press release regarding the Senate’s “one-house budget resolution” which includes a “historic $4.1 billion investment over four years” to revamp and enlarge the state’s child care system.

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