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Parents, lawmakers call on Gov. Hochul to sign child care bills

JJustin Dowdell reads allowed for his class as kindergarten teacher, Grace Kelly holds the book for his at Allendale Columbia School’s summer LEAP program. (photo by Max Schulte)
Max Schulte
Justin Dowdell reads allowed for his class as kindergarten teacher, Grace Kelly  holds the book for him at Allendale Columbia School’s summer LEAP program.

Grassroots advocates and state lawmakers are urging Governor Kathy Hochul to sign bills meant to make childcare more accessible for more families.

The state legislature passed three bills this year intended to help families afford and access childcare. For many caregivers, the current childcare system is punishing.

“The amount of sacrifices I make just to take care of the children while I work full time, they’re not fair. They're not fair to me, and they are not fair to the children,” said Isabel Rosa, a grandparent who’d struggled with child care as a parent as well.

“Honestly, I was really never eligible for child care,” she said. “Either I had a job that was out of the 9-5 arena, or I made like $5 too much.”

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One such bill that state lawmakers passed would eliminate a requirement that families make a certain amount of money to be eligible for assistance.

“Truly penalizing the lowest paid work workforce,” said Assemblymember Sarah Clark (D-Rochester). “It's just mind-boggling given ... the challenges of the cost of care for families. So we're really hoping to see that over the finish line.”

Another bill would allow families to receive childcare support as they wait for their application to be processed.

“Right now, a number of families across New York State are stuck in that purgatory where they don't have assistance while they're trying to get out there into the workforce, while they're trying to get their education,” said State Sen. Samra Brouk (D-Rochester). “So this will create a fill gap during that period.”

It’s not uncommon for a governor to sign a bill into law months after it passes the state legislature.

However, Clark and others said families cannot afford to wait for policies that would improve their quality of life to be put into practice.

“Childcare is absolutely treated as a privilege when it should be a basic necessity so that parents can remain in the workforce and that children are getting the socialization that they need so that they can be effective community members,” Stevie Vargas, Director of Organizing at the Children’s Agenda told WXXI News during a recent interview.

Vargas’ advocacy for childcare is also personal. She became a mother through the foster care system.

“Through the system as a relative resource, the county paid for (my son’s) childcare,” she said. “That it wouldn't come as an extra cost was absolutely essential to our stability as a family.”

But that changed when she officially adopted her son.

"They cut you off from no support. So it does feel like a punishment,” she said. “In every case, regardless of how you come into parenthood, it does feel like parents become punished for growing their families.”

For years, the Children’s Agenda has been pushing for improvements to the childcare industry. Moving forward, its focus is increasingly on childcare worker wages and updating policies to improve access to affordable childcare for more families.

Noelle E. C. Evans is WXXI's Murrow Award-winning Education reporter/producer.