Testimony regarding the FY 2016 preliminary budget relating to the Administration for Children's Services

Testimony of UFT Director of Child Care Policy Jeremy Hoffman before the New York City Council Committee on General Welfare, Committee on Women’s Issues and the Committee on Juvenile Justice

Good afternoon Chairman Levin, Chairwoman Cumbo, Chairman Cabrera and members of the General Welfare, Women's Issues and Juvenile Justice committees. My name is Jeremy Hoffman and I am Director of Child Care Policy at the United Federation of Teachers. On behalf of our union’s more than 200,000 members, including roughly 20,000 home-based Family Child Care providers, I want to thank you for this opportunity to offer testimony on the mayor’s fiscal year 2016 preliminary budget as it relates to the Administration for Children's Services (ACS) and child care specifically.

First, I would like to thank the New York City Council for its fierce advocacy fighting for the rights of children and families and for its leadership ensuring the necessary checks and balances to protect the interests of those in our city who have the smallest voice but the greatest need. We appreciate your oversight of the budget process and of the agencies responsible for our children’s education and well-being, including through your important hearing earlier this year on EarlyLearn NYC.

We again look to you to lead in the effort to gain more funding for subsidized child care and for your continued advocacy on behalf of parents' rights to high-quality child care options.As the City Council begins its deliberation over the city's proposed fiscal year 2016 Administration for Children’s Services budget we urge this body to place a greater emphasis on expanding access to quality child care and respecting parents’ rights to choose the child care which best fits their needs.

Support investment in early child care education

Early learners may span in age from six months through preschool and the first two grades of elementary school. Our focus in today's hearing is those early learners cared for by our members, family child care providers, whose families receive New York City child care subsidies. Our members are licensed by the state of New York and can take care of as many as 14 children, age six months to 13 years, in programs that look like miniature child care centers. Most however, operate from their homes and, depending on space and staffing levels, care for far fewer children.

A small segment of our members are affiliated with a family child care network, but the vast majority are independent providers who work directly with parents. The child care subsidy for most parents is awarded in the form of a voucher as part of their Human Resources Administration cash assistance. Ostensibly, vouchers afford parents the flexibility to choose the child care provider that best fits their need. However, a number of parents receive their subsidy in the form of a slot in the city's EarlyLearn system of child care centers and family child care networks. Many parents choose family child care for a variety of reasons including, the flexibility of non-traditional hours, the cultural competency of the providers and the opportunity for their children to receive care in a smaller setting.

Our union, like the City Council, has championed Mayor de Blasio's universal prekindergarten (UPK) expansion. As the city continues to build and develop the UPK program, we seek your support to make concurrent investments in child care. A stronger benefit accrues to children and families when efforts targeted to early learners are prioritized in the city’s budget. The foundation for prekindergarten learning is laid in a child's earliest years. We strongly believe that insufficient child care investment undermines our city’s ability to help every child fully develop to his or her fullest potential. By the time children are enrolled in a pre-K program they are already 4 years old, and those who come to prekindergarten without any prior, structured early care and education enter at a disadvantage compared to their peers.

Furthermore, families do not neatly fit within only one program or funding stream. Many parents have two or more children, one of whom may be enrolled in pre-K and the other younger one in child care. Many of these families turn to family child care for their younger children. But at a time when the number of families needing child care far outstrips the number of city child care subsidies available, children whose families are unable to access this service fall behind. It must be noted, that low-income and disproportionately families of color are dependent on the availability of both programs in order to meet their need.

The trend for access to family child care is moving in the wrong direction. The number of children enrolled in the family child care programs of our members has dropped precipitously from nearly 68,000 in fiscal year 2006 to roughly 45,000 this fiscal year. That is 23,000 fewer children receiving child care subsidies because of limited funding for the program. By ACS's own estimates, only 27 percent of income-eligible families receive a child care subsidy.

By better aligning child care and pre-K we can actually strengthen both. The UFT, in partnership with our national union, the AFT, is already beginning to develop new approaches to kindergarten readiness that has pre-K and child care working together. Strategic funding increases would help balance out the cost structure by facilitating some technical changes to the rates and realigning them. As one example, the city has the authority to institute an enhanced rate for non-traditional hours for child care vouchers, which is hours of care that many low-income working parents need and which Family Child Care is able to provide.

The complex funding landscape of family child care

To increase access to quality care and education we need to look holistically at early care and education. Because parents access early care and education services at schools and community-based organizations as well as at home-based family child care, the city needs to stabilize and strengthen each. Unfortunately, a fundamental restructuring of early care and education is occurring which is rising operational costs for family child care. Last November the federal government, for the first time since 1996, reauthorized the Child Care Development Block Grant, the nation's primary funding source for child care. It includes a number of new, costly and unfunded mandates that will be implemented over the next several years. Concurrent with that, the pre-K expansion in New York City, while critically important for child development, creates a bit of uncertainty for family child care providers who now need to enroll an increased number of younger children. This change in the cost structure creates a snowball effect by raising the costs for our members; specifically, more staff is required to supervise younger children. Historically, our family child care members have relied on having a mixed-age group of children, all with different payment rates and required staffing levels, to piece together a financially viable program.

For family child care providers who participate in the EarlyLearn NYC system the situation is even more complicated. Although they represent a relatively small segment of family child care providers — roughly 1,700 out of the 20,000 total providers — they face a number of additional challenges. As I testified in January, Bloomberg's EarlyLearn NYC redesign of the contracted child care system resulted in most family child care networks becoming sub-entities of child care centers. Previously, each network had been its own separate organization and together they in many respects constituted a child care system parallel to the city’s child care centers. But the finances of centers and networks have become interlocked. In order to make themselves financially whole or closer to whole, many networks have lowered the rates that they pay to their affiliated family child care providers and have increased the various administrative fees that they deduct from the providers’ earnings. Over the last year we have seen an alarming increase in this practice. 

The irony of this situation is that providers affiliated with family child care networks, which ACS believes offer a higher quality of care, are now paid less, in some cases significantly less, than providers serving subsidized children who have vouchers. This disparity in pay rate exists despite the higher per-child rate for EarlyLearn family child care providers in networks which is generally higher than the per-child rate that the voucher serving family child care providers are paid.

I will not rehash the entirety of the UFT's concerns regarding EarlyLearn and instead I will simply refer you to the testimony that I provided to the General Welfare Committee back in January. However it is worth reiterating today that it is of critical importance that every family child care network pay its affiliated providers the same market rate, as calculated by the State of New York in accordance with federal requirements, paid to those providers serving children with a child care voucher. This "salary parity" is as important to the overall early education system and is a vital component of stabilizing family child care.

A new era in early care and education

As we have testified before, child care as a whole and family child care in particular, suffered greatly under the former mayor. In stark contrast, Mayor de Blasio's second budget, like his first, includes no cuts to child care. I cannot overstate the importance of the funding stabilization created by last year's base-lining of the Council's previous restorations. Now instead of the City Council leading the fight to restore tens of millions of dollars in cuts year after year, we can finally begin to talk about how to move child care forward and how to begin to serve the thousands of hard working families who financially qualify for subsidized child care, but currently are unable to receive it.

The city has now entered a new era with a mayor deeply committed to early education and with Commissioner Gladys Carrion, a champion of collaboration and partnership leading the Administration for Children's Services. I was proud to serve on the mayor's Early Care and Education Task Force as the UFT's representative together with several child care advocates who will likely offer valuable insights during today's hearing. Our union deeply appreciates that the administration is waiting for the conclusion of the State budget in order to guide its funding priorities for the fiscal year 2016 Executive Budget. The UFT has lobbied Albany lawmakers in an effort to secure a significant increase in both State child care funds as well as pre-K funding. We are happy that the Assembly has included a $25 million increase for child care in their one-house budget resolution and are hopeful that the State Senate and the governor will agree that an increased investment in child care is needed. Likewise, we are hopeful that the mayor and the City Council will meet the urgent need and significantly increase child care funding.

Increase family access

Working families depend on child care to maintain their employment and to ensure their children receive quality early education. For parents and guardians working to support families at the lowest income levels, affordable, high quality and reliable child care is crucial. New York City’s high cost of living can place even basic needs out of reach for those living at or under the poverty line. The statistics on poverty and the working poor in our city in the aftermath of the country’s recession are staggering. A recent report published by the Coalition for the Homeless found the number of children sleeping in shelters rose eight percent last year, reaching a level of 22,712 in January 2014 —  the highest in history.

Our city's families need greater access to child care and quality early education. Every year that eligible families don’t receive subsidies, we allow the gap to widen placing vulnerable children at a significant disadvantage. Additionally, a parent’s right to choose the type of child care that best fits their family’s need, as granted in federal law, must be respected by the administration. Quite simply, if a parent chooses to send their child to a center, they should be allowed to do so. And if they prefer to send their child to family child care, that should be their choice. The administration has previously testified that it has engaged in the practice of steering children who are voucher recipients to the under-enrolled EarlyLearn system. In our view, these efforts not only infringe upon parents’ rights, but these disturbing practices often result in limiting the overall number of children receiving subsidized care. At a time when the need for child care subsidies far outpaces its availability, sending a voucher child to an unfilled contracted EarlyLearn seat City effectively collapses two different child care slots into one. As you deliberate during the budget process please recognize that early child care is an economic and educational imperativeand expanding access should remain a top priority.

Closing thoughts

Educating and caring for our earliest learners is a high priority for the UFT and the professional development support we provide to our union’s family child care providers is evidence of our commitment. Through UFT Teacher Center we’ve partnered with a number of organizations to develop a diverse professional development program including the State’s nine mandated topics, health and safety, a literacy program specifically designed for the home-based setting, and child mental health and trauma.

We are excited to have an administration that engages all stakeholders in making our city’s child care system work better. Strengthening early child care options and expanding access for families seeking educationally sound, subsidized care is smart policy for our city’s future. We know that investing now in our city’s children and families will reap long-term economic and social benefits.

In closing, I reiterate our gratitude to the City Council for your strong leadership and advocacy on behalf of the children we care for, especially with respect to their rights to a high-quality education in a safe and caring environment.

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