During his campaign, Mayor Eric Adams pledged a plan to institute an affordable, city-subsidized child care program, billed to aid struggling families unable to independently afford the service.
In a policy brief he released last summer offering the contours of his plan, Adams called the plan a “moral imperative” for the city. The plan, which he calls “Ucare,” would be available to low-income families with children ages 0 to 3. While it’s unclear exactly what this entails, Adams said the initiative will be affordable or simply free daycare — building off the city’s current Pre-K and 3K programs for children under 5.
As he settles into his mayoralty, the prospect of implementing Ucare got a boost from an influential supporter of a plan: New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams. Should the City Council approve the initiative, hundreds of thousands of families will no longer be forced to choose between working and caring for their child, advocates say.
Still, officials on both sides of City Hall have yet to cite the cost of such an undertaking or where the money will come from.
A December 2020 report by the Citizens’ Committee for Children found the average cost of daycare center services is $18,746 a year — or a third of the median household income for families in the city. But that figure consumes even more take-home pay for lower-income families, reaching as high as 65%, according to the report.
“We're going to work together, all levels of government, to do what we can to actually pass a universal child care system for New Yorkers,” the speaker told WNYC's Brian Lehrer on Friday.
In brief remarks at the U.S. Conference of Mayors on Thursday, his first since being sworn into office, the mayor said the lack of affordable child care across the city has forced parents into an impossible situation.
“Any working-class or low-income parent who cannot work because they cannot find affordable child care will be trapped in a negative economic cycle forever,” Mayor Adams said in his remarks. “With the child care initiatives put forward by the White House and majorities in both houses of Congress, we can free them from that cycle.”
In his plan, Adams would expand the number of appropriate child care sites across residential, office and other private buildings through subsidies and tax breaks to owners in exchange for free or affordable space. The lower overhead will help make child care cheaper.
But despite enthusiasm to implement affordable child care, Mayor Adams suggested the proposal requires federal funds that have yet to materialize. While not explicitly mentioning it, such monies would likely come from the federal Build Back Better Act, a spending package that has since stalled in Congress. Under the current, near $2 trillion proposal, a total of $100 billion spread over three years would be set aside for states to expand child care options. Currently, the city receives federal stimulus monies to fund the 3K programs created under then-Mayor Bill de Blasio.
But Jessica Sager, co-founder and CEO of All Our Kin, a national family child care advocacy group, said monies already exist in the budget for expanded child care. They could come in the form of general funds, which have no restrictive use.
“The city can use general funds now to take early action and can even think about establishing a tax levy, for example, to raise city-specific funding for care,” Sager said, adding that for Ucare to be truly universal it needs to provide those services to the city’s “infant-toddler child care deserts” — areas where demand is high but supply is low.
Sager noted that child care programs are essential to children’s brain development, keeping providers employed, and helping parents stay in the workforce.
“If we want to reopen the city; if we want to get the economy back on track; if we want to make it possible for parents, especially women, to work, we absolutely must invest in child care,” Sager said. “Investing in care now would actually save money in the city’s budget later on.”
The prospect of expanded child care options stood as a signature talking point among some of the mayor’s rivals in the Democratic primary, notably Maya Wiley, a progressive Democrat. Under her plan, families identified as high need would receive between $5,000 and $10,000 to put towards a child care provider.
A similar plan is already being explored on the state level, with state Senators Jessica Ramos and Jahbari Brisport having introduced legislation last month to expand child care access across the state. Funding for these new programs, which would be given directly to operators, would originate through an unspecified “small tax” against big businesses.
Speaker Adams asserted Friday that members have expressed support for the creation of the program, during her WNYC interview. Some supporters include Manhattan Councilmember Carmen De La Rosa, who represents Washington Heights and Inwood.
She said her support comes from personal experience: when she ran in the Assembly five years ago, she found herself relying on family members to take care of her then baby girl, because she couldn’t afford daycare.
“I think the cheapest one I could find in my neighborhood was like $250 a week at that time,” De La Rosa. “I couldn’t afford that on one paycheck, in one household, because I was on leave at work.”
In the Bronx, Shanette Linton, a family child care provider in Pelham Parkway, considered the proposal a win-win for families struggling to find affordable care and ensuring her overhead needs are met.
“There’s so much money that’s going into child care and some parents just don’t have it,” Linton said. “They’re either thinking about, ‘Should I pay my rent or should I pay child care?’”
Both the speaker and the mayor, however, have not indicated just when they would begin tackling the subject. Sager, of All Our Kin, said the city should seize the chance sooner than later.
“The city has an opportunity to be the leader, the trailblazer, the place that everyone points to in having gotten this right,” Sager.