Originally, President Joe Biden had wanted to provide subsidized child care through the Inflation Reduction Act to Americans earning less than $300,000 a year, but it dropped off the table.

What had initially been proposed through the original Build Back Better legislation was an overhaul of the subsidized child care system in the U.S. — something that would have expanded eligibility to more families in a variety of circumstances.

According to Peter Nabozny, director of policy for the Children’s Agenda in Rochester, the proposal would have created evening and weekend child care for families and would have adequately compensated child care providers.

“Ultimately, that did not make the final package,” said Nabozny. “It was a great disappointment to a lot of advocates like me but also to a lot of families across the state.”

In August, the Children’s Agenda released a report on just how devastating the COVID-19 pandemic has been to the child care sector in New York. The study examined programs that were in operation in January 2020 and looked at whether they were still operating in January 2022.  The upshot? One quarter of the state’s providers had closed.

“What we found was that over 3,500 child care operators that were operating pre-pandemic had closed over the course of the pandemic,” Nabozny said.  

While some re-opened, the state was left with 1,300 fewer providers amounting to 10,000 fewer child care slots, as well as expanded child care deserts.

“Overall, the greatest losses of child care capacity were found in rural parts of the state. We highlighted Saranac Lake in the report, which lost about half of its pre-COVID child care capacity.” Nabozny said.  “It’s become a child care desert. It was not prior to the pandemic.”

Child care deserts were also found in high poverty urban areas where there were big losses in family group child care centers, which is child care that someone may offer out of their home.

“Albany’s South End was another community that we highlighted that lost quite a lot of child care capacity over the course of the pandemic,” he said. “It fell further into that child care desert status.”

The Children’s Agenda’s report recommended four steps that New York state should take to strengthen the child care sector moving forward, including establishing a long-term commitment to universal child care.

“Universal child care is the North Star for a lot of us who have been advocating for this. We do believe that child care should be treated like something akin to public education where every child has that right,” Nabozny said. “Families have needs for child care for a lot of different life circumstances and we should treat it that way.”

The report also recommends establishing a permanent stabilization program; targeting specific supports to family-based care providers; and establishing a system by which child care providers are still paid even on days when a child is absent.

“There are structural changes we can make to the system that would really strengthen our system in preparation for our next economic downturn,” Nabozny said. 

As for Nabozny’s thoughts on next year’s state budget, he told Capital Tonight that he and his colleagues are hopeful that the governor and the Legislature will find significant child care funding. This year, the budget included raises for providers. 

“Specifically, we need to embrace that permanent stabilization fund…and really transform it into a workforce compensation fund,” he said.