Testimony before the New York State Office of Children and Family Services

Testimony of UFT Vice President for Non-DOE Members Anne Goldman before the New York State Office of Children and Family Services

Good afternoon, Deputy Commissioner Molnar and thank you for this opportunity to address you on the OCFS State Child Care Plan. The UFT is especially grateful that you are holding this hearing in New York City so that our members can attend.

My name is Anne Goldman, and I am the Vice President for non-Department of Education members of the union. The UFT proudly represents 15,000 home-based family childcare providers located in all five boroughs of our great city. If you are a parent who receives government-subsidized childcare and sends your child to home-based care, then someone represented by the UFT cares for your child.

Home-based family childcare is an essential component of the city’s subsidized childcare system, which serves more than 300,000 children. This type of care allows tens of thousands of hard-working, low-income New Yorkers, predominately people of color, to hold jobs. The high-level care that our members provide gives parents peace of mind. Additionally, and just as important, our children are better prepared to enter school, do well in school as compared to children who do not attend quality early childhood programs and stay in school with more success later in life.

In the past, the UFT’s collaborative relationship with the Office for Children and Family Services has allowed us to address many daunting challenges involving both providers and the families they serve. This working relationship will hold us in good stead as we face the new challenges ahead.

Meeting Unrealistic Expectations

This topic brings us to the point of today’s hearing, which is the state’s effort to comply with the new mandates of the recently reauthorized federal Child Care and Development Block Grant program. The question is how do we amend the NYS Child Care Plan to abide by the new requirements?

One overarching concern is the logistics of ramping up in a timely and effective manner to comply with the benchmarks set for provider training, on-site inspections, and background checks.

Additionally, the new family eligibility requirements coupled with the new health and safety requirements will strain a system — indeed, will be impossible to implement — unless we add considerable funding. Currently, we serve 27% of income-eligible families in the five boroughs.  However, without additional money, we will be forced to cut the number of childcare seats we now fund. We can only stretch a dollar so far.

We hardly need to tell you what that means: Without the government’s help, these parents cannot afford professional day care. So who will care for these children? Will the care providers meet state standards? Will they provide an education or just plop them in front of a television for the day? Will they feed them nutritious meals, or will dry cereal suffice? Will they teach them social skills, or will they intervene only when the children get too noisy?

Even without considering the human factor here, it is a poor economic plan for our city’s future. The city thrives when its population is working. We have seen the effect on our tax levies and the levels of government assistance when unemployment goes up. Moreover, we know what happens when children go to school without any preparation.

Studies have shown that the cost of remedial education in elementary schools and the higher grades is much more costly than providing early childhood education. Studies have also show that early childhood education has a direct impact on keeping our young people out of jail.

The cost of incarcerating one inmate in the state is $60,000 a year – just from an economic point-of-view; it does not make sense to cut childcare seats.

However, we, in this room, are not in the business of overlooking the human factor. We already know that those early years of cognitive, social, and emotional development are critical to having success in school and life. Our family day care providers have the skills to impart valuable lessons to their little pupils.

On a related note, our providers are sometimes on the front line of identifying children with developmental delays. The UFT encourages the state to fund training for our family day care providers on this topic so early interventions can be put into effect.

There are other reasons to maintain the number of children in government-subsidized childcare.

  1. The state requires children to receive immunizations against childhood diseases when they attend government-subsidized day care. This component is critical for a city as large as New York to manage, control and treats infectious diseases. Cutting the number of seats means more children remain unimmunized.
  2. Our poorest families in New York City often depend upon the meals their children receive in family day care. It is not an exaggeration to say that these meals may be the most nutritious food the child receives all week at some point in the month. At a time when we are concerned with the relationship between nutrition and learning, our providers can be an important line of defense against malnutrition.

The Burden of Unfunded Mandates

The federal government has now handed us a bill for tens, maybe hundreds, of millions of dollars in unfunded mandates. The last time this happened — can anyone here say Common Core without cringing? — The state wasted hundreds of millions of dollars on failed policies in poorly implemented educational programs.

We want to do this right the first time and avoid a rush job that will require remediation. We owe it to our cities, children, families, and childcare providers to go about this in a thoughtful and deliberate manner.

We have a chance to do this correctly despite unreasonable federal mandates with unrealistic timelines.

Therefore, we applaud your office’s realistic approach contained in the state’s plan, which outlines what must be done. We will require legislative action, system upgrades, an increase in trained inspectors and a look at the State Administrative Procedure Act. In addition, we have thought about what might help.

The UFT is proposing that the OCFS create a “phase-in period” to allow enough time for providers and inspectors to learn about the new regulations. Providers and inspectors will need professional development about the new training, inspections, and background checks. We will have to translate any printed materials into multiple languages. This will cost money.

The UFT strongly objects to any attempt by the state or city to shift any of these new costs to the shoulders of the providers. Furthermore, and not a small aside, not only should the costs not be handed to our providers, they deserve to earn at least $15 an hour.

Additionally, we strongly recommend that OCFS create a task force of stakeholders to help develop a comprehensive plan for implementation of the new regulations. This group would provide both inspectors and providers a forum to examine the rules and develop recommendations on the state’s rollout.

In closing, affordable childcare for all eligible working families is a realistic goal. The immediate and long-term benefits for children and working parents are clear. We believe that together we can ensure a responsible, effective rollout of the new federal mandates while maintaining, and perhaps even increasing, the number of families who benefit from subsidized family day care.

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