Lawmakers and advocates focused on child poverty in the state will push for a further expansion of New York state's child tax credit program in the next budget, they said Friday, as the issue of the state’s affordability is one of the largest drivers of people deciding to move out of the state.

Conversations about how the state can help struggling families have started after child poverty across the nation has more than doubled since federal pandemic aid expired amid rising inflation, according to new data released by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Individual committees of the state Child Poverty Advisory Council started to meet this week to work on recommendations to be sent to Gov. Kathy Hochul about how to cut child poverty in half over the next decade. Work groups are specifically looking at employment and wages, housing, tax policy, public assistance and children's issues.

The council will submit recommendations to the governor by the end of the year about child care funding and how to reverse child poverty in next year's budget.

"In that first meeting, we really did focus heavily on child care, because I think that's an issue a lot of us have been working on and that the state Office of Children and Family Services and others are really ready to start talking about," said councilmember Pete Nabozny, director of Policy at The Children's Agenda in Rochester.

The last budget expanded the state's child tax credit to include families with children 3 years old and under, expected to include 630,000 more New York children.

"But the credit is really small, it's only $330 at most in New York state," Nabozny said.

He added the state credit must be increased again next year to a higher benefit closer to the federal program.

Sen. Andrew Gounardes, a Brooklyn Democrat, plans to fight for his legislation to be included in the next budget to create the Working Families Tax credit to give families between $500 to $1,500 per child.

"If we enacted the bill, as I've drafted it, and we budgeted for it, it would cut New York's poverty rate amongst kids by up to 25%," Gounardes said. "This would be a game-changer."

Increasing pay for child care provider staff remains a top priority to retain child care providers, with about 18,000 across New York — about 1,000 fewer providers since before the COVID-19 pandemic, Nabozny said.

The final budget included $500 million for child care staff at registered facilities to receive bonuses of a few thousand dollars each -- but it's a one-time benefit.

Advocates plan to push for the state to invest in permanent pay increases for staff. 

"...It needs to be something that the state can build in so that we can account for it in future years so that families have some certainty of what they're going to benefit from," he said.

It's unclear how steep New York's budget shortfall will be as tax receipts continue to roll in through the end of the year, but the state is estimated to reach a $36 billion gap over three years.

Lawmakers say investments in areas like child care cannot be sacrificed to close a budget gap. Gounardes on Friday pointed to pulling from billions in corporate economic development giveaways and other spending they say is insufficient.

"I think we should be looking at every dollar we're spending right now and making sure that it's actually being spent in a way that helps support and invest in the lives of New Yorkers," he said.

There's talk of leaning on $19.5 billion in the state's reserve fund, but progressive Democrats are preparing to rally harder for increased taxes on New York's millionaires and billionaires to increase revenue.

Senate Families and Children Committee chair Jabari Brisport says it's the best way to erode the fiscal cliff.

"It is a political choice to refuse to raise taxes on the rich, and that is something that needs to change next year in order to make sure that we can not only maintain social safety net, but also increase it," he said.

Democrats remain focused on a universal child care program in the state, estimated to cost more than $5 billion.

"Parents who can't afford childcare also cannot even find childcare, because there's just there's no workforce, the system is collapsing," Brisport said. "And so the investment of billions of dollars from the state is critical."

The 2023-24 budget also included measures to ease the effects of the “benefits cliff” on Public Assistance recipients when they become employed by disregarding income earned through workforce training programs and for six months after job entry to improve low-income New Yorkers' participation in the workforce.