State and federal leaders say an already looming crisis over the lack of accessible child care in New York has been magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic.

What You Need To Know

  • Nearly half of child care providers in Western New York have closed
  • Providers who have remained open say they're losing money
  • U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is pushing for $50 billion in aid for the industry

By Monday, March 16, attorney Ann Nichols said she had a new job title — and not one she chose.

"I am now primarily a stay-at-home mom who squeezes in time throughout the day to be an attorney. For virtual court appearances, I'm often locked in my bedroom arguing points of law on Skype while praying that my children don't bang on the door to ask for their 10th snack of the morning," Nichols said.

Her child care provider closed because of the coronavirus pandemic, along with nearly half of the centers in Western New York.

Others, like Chautauqua Lake Child Care Center, could soon be on the brink. Executive Director Beth Starks said every day she stays open she loses money.

"My colleagues will tell you that they stayed open during the  COVID pandemic because it was what was right to do for children and their families. I will tell you that we all made poor business decisions," Starks said.

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, said before the pandemic there was one slot for every four children in New York. Without adequate federal aid she said that could drop to one in eight.

"Child care is the lynch pin that keeps the wheels of our economy turning," she said. "As parts of our country begin to reopen, we need to ensure that child care services are accessible, affordable and safe."

Now with many schools likely moving to a staggered or virtual model, there is larger need than ever for the service and far fewer providers. Gillibrand is pushing for a $50 billion package in grants for providers to be included in the next federal stimulus bill.

She also wrote a letter to the CDC outlining the needs and recommendations of providers to reopen.

"In order to do that, they will need support and they will also need clear guidelines. Right now they don't have either," she said.

Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, D-NY, said the issue disproportionately affects women. For reasons like societal standards and pay inequity, mothers are more likely to quit their jobs or cut back on hours.

"It is a problem for our economy if we don't have the ability for women to achieve their full potential and to assume the jobs that often have been denied to them in the past," Hochul said.

WNY Women's Foundation Executive Director Sheri Scavone, meanwhile, urged women to share their struggle with employers.

"It is real and it is predicted to derail women's careers by a generation, taking out diversity of voice, critical talents, family economic security, retirement security and our economy with it," she said.