Publicly Provided Child Care in New York City
– By Meagan McElroy
Although the municipal government of New York City administers the “largest publicly-funded child care system in the country,” this system, perhaps necessarily considering the city’s seemingly never-ending budget crises, imposes numerous standards upon those residents who wish to take advantage of it. The Administration for Children’s Services provides child care only for “public assistance families and eligible families who have left public assistance for employment.” Families in the city may only qualify for public assistance if they fall below the U.S. Department of Health & Human Service’s federal poverty guidelines, which have not been revised except to be indexed for inflation since May 1965, and the eligibility interview at the city’s Administration for Children’s Services child care office requires, among other documentation, birth certificates, social security cards, and proof of legal residence in the United States if the applicants are not citizens.
Such strict guidelines may conserve a city’s limited resources for many of those in need, including the most desperately poor. However, the public assistance requirements also automatically exclude anyone who cannot provide the extensive documentation needed, including families with undocumented immigrant parents or children. Additionally, the extraordinarily high poverty threshold required to qualify for public assistance likely disqualifies many families from receiving publicly provided child care when such families would still experience extreme hardship paying for it on their own. A family in which two parents must work, perhaps two jobs each in order to afford the high cost of living in New York – for themselves and their children – must also pay the additional fees required for child care during those working hours.
Though the existence of a day care referral page on the city’s day care website may assist parents in finding quality facilities for their children, all families of the city would be better served by a publicly subsidized child care option. This would ensure that working parents are not burdened by the either opportunity costs of caring for their children or the costs of paying others to watch their children while they work to support their family. However, such a public child care option for all New Yorkers seems highly unlikely in light of the aforementioned perennial budget crisis.
Rather than any kind of ideological discrimination against undocumented immigrants or lower-middle class parents, extreme measures of cost-minimization seem to motivate the restrictions on public child care. However, the unavailability of child care for millions of New Yorkers who must otherwise pay for day care services (which may in itself push families into public assistance if they cannot afford child care) likely harms the economic well being of the city as a whole. If parents were able to utilize a trustworthy, dependable public child care service subsidized by their already high tax payments, they could further stimulate the city’s economy by not having to plan their careers around arranging child care or simply by contributing the money they were previously spending on child care toward other services.
A public child care service, while beneficial to all parents, would be particularly beneficial for mothers, who disproportionately bear the burden of child care either in the home (resulting in “the double shift” of work and housework as well as the “mommy tax” of reduced career prospects) or financially (especially for single mothers).
Meagan McElroy is a joint degree student, expecting a Masters in Public Policy & Management from Heinz College and a Juris Doctorate from University of Pittsburgh School of Law in May 2015. She is a graduate of Barnard College and has interned at the Women’s Law Project in Pittsburgh and The Center for HIV Law and Policy in New York.