Testimony on child care provider compensation and market rate increase

Testimony of Tammie Miller, UFT Family Child Care Providers Chapter Chair, before New York City Council General Welfare Committee

Good afternoon Chairman DeBlasio and members of this distinguished committee. Thank you for inviting me to testify before you today. My name is Tammie Miller. I am a registered family daycare provider and the chair of the United Federation of Teachers’ home daycare providers’ chapter. I am here today to speak to you on behalf of the 28,000 New York City home daycare providers represented by our union.

Our city and nation are in the midst of the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. At the same time, for New York City daycare providers, living in crisis is nothing new. Earning as little as $2 an hour and working 10-hour days, we are among the lowest-paid — and hardest-working — workers in the metropolitan region. The poverty line for a family of four in New York City in 2008 was $26,138. The average annual wage for New York City’s providers? $19,610. So I am not exaggerating when I say that for many of us getting by day-to-day is a crisis — and has been so since long before the economic collapse last fall.

That is why in October 2007 New York City providers voted overwhelmingly — 8,382 vs. 96 — to join the United Federation of Teachers. We are early childhood educators, not babysitters, and we deserve respect and a decent wage for the hard work we do. Now in the midst of an economic crisis our work is that much more important: we care for tens of thousands of low-income children already suffering from inadequate public services and allow tens of thousands more parents to get up each morning and go to work, knowing that their children are in caring and responsible hands. These parents, in turn, are the workers whose earning and spending will return our economy to health. For this reason, our city needs home daycare providers now more than ever — it cannot function without us.

Unfortunately, the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) has demonstrated through its neglect of New York City’s childcare providers that it does not value our labor. ACS routinely experiences computer and phone “glitches” which impede timely payment of providers and prevent us from being able to report problems to the agency. ACS’ response to resolving these technical issues — which have an enormous impact on providers’ quality of life and the quality of care which we are able to provide to children — has been unacceptably slow. In our offices, we maintain a list of providers with unresolved payment problems — some providers have been on the list for more than six months!

Most egregiously, however, ACS has systematically withheld from all providers substantial sums of money that are rightfully ours. In October 2007, the state Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) approved a new — and substantially higher — market rate for providers in New York State. More than 17 months have passed. Providers in every other county received the new rate months ago, but in New York City ACS has continued to pay us the lower 2005 rates. This is a blatant violation of state and federal guidelines.

It is also contrary to the vision of economic recovery put forward by President Obama and his administration in Washington. The president has called for Americans to work together to help individuals and communities move forward. ACS is holding providers back. Our country is poised to spend hundreds of billions of dollars in stimulus to get our national economy moving again — by putting money in the hands of people who will spend it. But ACS won’t give an extra penny to the poorest New Yorkers. As the President has said, now is the time to invest in — not disinvest from — education, infrastructure, and economic and workforce development. This crisis is also an opportunity to address eight years of disastrous economic and education policies and, for ACS, to pay providers our due — as part of our country’s movement forward and out of economic crisis. ACS can play an important role in New York City’s economic recovery — if they stand by providers and the working families we serve.

The difference between the 2005 and 2007 rates reflects the state’s periodic reassessment of the rise in providers’ cost of doing business. This increase isn’t much in the context of the city budget, but it will have a real impact on real people’s lives. Take for example the case of Clemencia Aquino, a provider in Manhattan. Clemencia’s husband recently lost his job as the superintendent in the building in which they reside; as a result, they must now find a new place to live. Clemencia is receiving the 2005 market rate. Under the 2007 rate, however, her weekly income would increase as much as $25 for each child in her care. If you do the math, you can see the difference. Caring for one infant, two 2-year-olds, and two 3-year-olds, Clemencia would earn an extra $90 per week, or $360 per month. That’s around $4,000 more each year — a big difference for a working family facing unemployment and eviction. As I’ve said, there is a lot of talk these days about economic stimulus and putting money in the hands of people who will spend it — well, here is a chance to do just that.

Providers are not rich — we are not even middle income. In addition to our meager wages and long hours, we receive no benefits. We have no health care, no pension, and no sick days. That means that if a provider gets sick, she doesn’t get paid. Keep in mind that many of us are single parents or the sole bread-winners in our families. We spend our days caring for other peoples’ children, but when we’re sick, no one cares for ours. As independent contractors, we have to pay our overhead — toys for the children, educational materials, assistants’ salaries — out of pocket. And those of us in networks are forced to pay an additional “network fee” of $17 each week for each child in our care. That doesn’t leave very much for us to feed and clothe ourselves and our own children.

Not to mention that the city is now planning to cut tens of thousands of dollars from and close many city-run daycare centers, a decision which will inevitably place additional strain on overworked providers and school classrooms already bursting at the seams. More children means greater overhead costs to run our daycares. How are we supposed to welcome these children into our homes — and provide for them the quality care they deserve — without additional funding? We are short on funds as things stand now.

So you can see that receiving the mandated 2007 market rate increase will make an enormous difference in the lives of home daycare providers and the children and families we serve. That’s extra money for rent or for medicine. In these difficult economic times, with unemployment on the rise, public services on the wane, and working families hit hardest of all, it would make a big difference to have some extra cash for a rainy day.

But ACS has cried poverty, claiming it does not have adequate funds to pay us the new rate. What happened to the $27 million which the state gave to it precisely for this purpose? And how is it that the city can produce $45 million to retrain unemployed investment bankers and Wall Street traders but cannot find a dime for providers? The city has the money to pay us what is ours. City officials certainly know the importance of quality early childhood care — the mayor himself recently said that parents should use their earned income credit to obtain quality childcare. So why won’t the city do all it can to support the hardworking women and men who provide that care?

We have done everything we can to demonstrate the urgency of our situation — we have rallied, demonstrated, petitioned, negotiated — and still the city ignores us. ACS is denying thousands of providers a raise that would help lift us out of poverty. As a result, many of us haven’t been able to make ends meet this past year and are worried about having to find another job or go on welfare and get food stamps to get by. Unemployment is already skyrocketing; does ACS really want to push more New Yorkers towards joblessness? Does this make sense? Is it fair? How much will it take to finally make the city realize that what it is doing is wrong?

That is why I am here at this hearing today to remind the city that we are still here waiting for our money — and that we expect increased funding for childcare to be included in the mayor’s budget for 2010. Moving forward, the city should resolve all the childcare issues before it. No more late, missing, incorrect, or bouncing checks. Clean up the childcare rules and regulations. Hold networks accountable for the services which they claim to offer — but often don’t deliver. And above all — pay us our fair wage for our hard work as early childhood educators.

Whether we’re talking about late pay or the market rate, the union isn’t asking for a raise for providers — we are asking that ACS pay us the monies to which we are entitled under the law. In addition to paying the 2007 rate from this point forward, we call on ACS to pay us the 2007 rate retroactively to October 2007 and to promptly resolve all other outstanding payment issues.

The city administration’s neglect of providers does not just hurt us. It has a ripple effect on the children and families we serve. We are first educators for many of New York City’s children and prepare our city’s most at-risk youth for a smooth transition to kindergarten and a successful start to learning in our city’s schools. We serve nutritious meals to kids who would otherwise go to bed hungry. We report child abuse, neglect and maltreatment. We prevent children from being left home alone or in other unsafe conditions. We provide a stable and nurturing environment for children living in shelters and low-income or single-parent homes. And we instill in these children values which will guide them throughout their lives. Without us, many of them would slip through the cracks.

Research has shown that the quality of care provided to our youngest children has an enormous and lasting impact on their well-being and ability to learn. Poor quality care results in delays in language, math, and social skills. There is an extremely important link between improving our working conditions and improving the learning conditions and educational opportunities for the children in our care. Underpaid and overworked, it is difficult for us to provide the very highest quality of care which, under better working conditions, we would achieve. When you underpay providers, you shortchange children.

Not to mention that the city as a whole also stands to gain from investing in quality early childhood care. Studies show a return of $7-10 for every dollar invested in early care and education programs.

On the other hand, the costs to the city of neglecting providers — and the children and families we serve — will be enormous. Not surprisingly, the conditions under which we work are driving many providers to leave home daycare. Those who remain struggle each day to make ends meet. If we have to close our doors because we can’t afford to stay in business what will happen to the parents who depend on us so they can go to work? It does not help New York’s economy to have fewer families paying taxes.

The city’s rash behavior may also cost New York tens of millions of dollars in state and federal monies. In response to ACS’ flagrant violation of the law, state authorities have threatened to withhold federal and state reimbursement for subsidized daycare if the city does not comply by the end of the month, when the next payment is due. That’s a loss of millions each month, and that will affect the 50,000 children in our care and another 70,000 subsidized children in child-care centers and Head Start programs. The city could also lose its share of $46 million in federal economic stimulus funds earmarked for childcare in New York State.

No one wants to see this come to pass, least of all providers. I am shocked that ACS would put the future of New York’s most vulnerable children at risk, but that is what they have done by refusing to comply with the law. With the city already shuttering public daycare centers, this potential loss of funding couldn’t come at a worse time. Does ACS really want to be responsible for damaging childcare in New York City?

We fought for two years to form our union and we have been fighting for a fair wage ever since. We have rallied all across this city — in our neighborhoods, at ACS and City Hall — and built support among parents and children for our just cause. We have come this far and I promise today that we will not stop until we win what we deserve: respect and a decent wage.

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