Mayor Adams unveiled a sweeping, multi-year plan Tuesday, to expand childcare for tens of thousands of New York City families, with a focus on creating more options for infants and toddlers.
The four-year “blueprint,” a mix of new city investments, efforts to streamline and improve existing services, and plans to lobby state officials to open access to public subsidies to more families, will cost $800 million and aid 41,000 kids across the city, Adams said.
“We’re going to tackle our childcare needs head on. We’re going to meet it head on and make sure that we provide services and support to those who need our help the most,” Adams said outside a Manhattan daycare.
The city’s public childcare landscape has grown dramatically for three and four-year-olds in recent years, thanks to former Mayor de Blasio’s Universal Pre-K and “3-K” programs.
But there are far fewer free or low-cost childcare options for the youngest kids, with just 6% of city infants and toddlers from low-income families enrolled in public childcare, compared to 76% of eligible three and four-year-olds.
City officials say there are a number of obstacles getting in the way.
The Administration for Children’s Services, which administers publicly-funded childcare vouchers for low-income families, has had a long waitlist “overcrowded with tens of thousands” of families for years, according to the city’s plan.
ACS officials are pledging to clear the decks and have already contacted 15,000 families since March, the agency said.
New investments will also expand access to childcare vouchers, which can be redeemed at private daycares. While state and federal rules prohibit extending subsidized childcare to the kids of undocumented immigrants, the recently-adopted city budget includes $10 million for that purpose.
Mayor Adams is also pushing to scrap a state rule that requires families to earn at least minimum wage to qualify for public childcare support.
“If you don’t make minimum wage, you don’t qualify for childcare,” said ACS Commissioner Jess Dannhauser . “So our gig workers, folks who work in lots of different parts of the economy, don’t qualify even though they are struggling to make ends meet the most. We’re calling on the state to engage with us on that important issue.”
Dannhauser praised a recent state decision to raise the income threshold to qualify for childcare subsidies from 100% of the federal poverty line to 300%, or about $83,000 a year for a family of four — a move that will allow more people to participate.
The city is offering tax abatements for property owners to retrofit their spaces to house childcare programs, and offering tax incentives for employers to offer childcare for their workers.
Adams pointed out that any effort to increase seats won’t be successful unless kids actually sign up to fill them — and receive high-quality childcare.
“We’re not going to play the game of giving the appearance that we have a fully fed childcare system, but when you dig in the crevices, you realize we’re counting seats and not children,” Adams said. “Seats don’t become cities. Children become cities.”
A streamlined, single childcare application is in the works that includes all of the publicly-funded options, expediting background checks to get more childcare staff to work quicker, and providing more professional development to early childhood workers who want to improve their craft, according to the plan.