New York Sen. Jabari Brisport, chair of the Senate Committee on Children & Families, has been traveling around the state hearing from stakeholders on the issue of child care and discussing his Universal Child Care Initiative. 

According to at least one observer, Brisport’s meetings have been successful when measured by how engaged the community has been.

“Each conversation goes the full two hours, and two-thirds or more of the time is filled with comments from child care providers and parents. What we have heard over and over again from parents and providers is ‘this is the first time I’ve felt heard,' 'this is the first time a politician has asked me what I need,' 'this tour gives me hope that real change is coming this time,’” they told Capital Tonight.

A little background.

New York was experiencing a child care crisis even before COVID-19, but the pandemic forced the closure of more than 1,200 child care providers, so the situation now is especially acute. 

Not only do 60% of children in New York state live in “child care deserts," but employers are having a tough time finding and retaining child care workers. 

Brisport told Capital Tonight that he’s heard from many providers about just how tight their margins are.

“The most surprising thing I’ve learned during this tour is just how many workers are working extra hours for free, or working for free just to keep their centers open. How many directors are taking pay cuts to the point where they are making less than minimum wage,” Brisport said.

One set of parents Brisport spoke with had lost their jobs, and with them, their child care subsidy. But their child care provider opted to keep their children in the center for free.  

“There are a lot of people who are just trying to keep the industry afloat,” he said. “It seems like it’s on the verge of collapse without a major investment.”

When asked where the money will come from to pay for child care, Brisport said the state budget.

“Last night, the governor was on one of our listening sessions and pledged to work with us to make this a priority,” he explained. “I do think that the wealthy do not pay their fair share. We raised historic amounts of revenue in the previous budget, but the gap between the rich and the poor continues to increase.”

The senator is looking for a tax hike on the wealthy, which could be on personal income, inheritances or via the stock transfer tax.  

“Honestly, you can hike taxes on people who make $300,000 a year,” he said. 

The Empire State Campaign for Child Care just released its executive budget request this week. The campaign’s primary ask is for a commitment by the state to create a high-quality, culturally responsive universal child care system within four years and take significant steps this year to move New York in that direction. 

For example, the campaign wants to see dramatically expanded access and fewer barriers to access, higher wages for the child care workforce and the establishment of a transitional reimbursement rate structure. 

The total price tag is high — more than $4 billion. However, if President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better plan is approved by Congress, New York may receive close to half of that for child care. Additionally, New York has close to $1 billion in unspent federal stimulus funds for child care, plus other recurring federal child care funds unspent due to pandemic-related child care closures.  

“This is the first year [child care] is getting attention. It seems like there are a lot more people talking about it,” Sen. Brisport said. “Just in the past year and half, we’ve seen each other’s homes and seen each other’s kids running around and understand that we are not just solitary individuals. We all exist as part of families and that child care is integral to any economic recovery.”

Brisport’s listening tour continues in the Capital Region on Dec. 1.