On Wednesday, the City Council made strides toward actualizing universal child care, by passing five bills brought forward by Council Member Julie Menin.
“Today’s unprecedented legislative package will make a huge difference for parents across this city, especially women in the workforce,” City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams said during a rally on the steps of City Hall that morning. New York is now positioned to become the first major city nationwide to enact universal child care, according to Menin’s office.
With bipartisan support, Menin said on Wednesday, the City Council voted overwhelmingly in favor of the legislation — only one bill received a single negative vote — after the Council member first announced her legislative push in early June. The five bills call for an advisory board to make recommendations to achieve universal child care over five years; a grant program for child care programs experiencing financial hardship; an online child care directory; a portal detailing existing child care subsidies; and guidance from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to be available online “regarding the facility requirements for a child care program.”
The City Council is not alone in fighting for more accessible child care; the NYS FY 2023 budget includes $7 billion to benefit child care over four years and ups the income eligibility threshold for child care subsidies so that over half of New York’s youngest residents qualify, Governor Kathy Hochul announced in April. At the end of June, Mayor Eric Adams unveiled a child care “blueprint” that includes an added $800 million investment into child care in the city, also over four years.
Adams’ initiative details an intent to include undocumented children also explicitly built into Menin’s push. “I don’t think you’ve got a universal program if you don’t include undocumented children,” she said.
“We Prioritize Differently”
The move to improve child care in the city, many Council members commented on Wednesday, has been a long time coming. “We’ve been talking about child care for years and years and years and years,” said Council Member Lynn Schulman.
The legislation fulfills a promise made by Menin in the early days of her candidacy for the seat she now holds for the first time, representing a stretch of Manhattan’s East Side including Lenox Hill and Yorkville. “Council Member Menin campaigned on this and now is delivering on this,” Downtown Council Member Christopher Marte said.
This year’s first-ever majority-women City Council played a role in moving the legislation forward successfully, according to Adrienne Adams. “We prioritize differently — and support solutions that benefit our families and our communities,” she said.
What’s At Stake
Also speaking at the steps of City Hall, Council Member Alexa Avilés framed child care as a human right. Before the pandemic, the average cost of child care for toddlers rang in at over $16,000 per year in the city, according to a 2019 report from Comptroller Brad Lander’s office. For infants, the cost topped $21,000 per year. “What if you only make $30,000 or $40,000? You now need over half of your income — this is before taxes — for child care,” said New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.
The New York City Economic Development Corporation, a nonprofit, estimates that the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and of restricted access to child care have taken a $2.2 billion toll on the city, in tax revenue, as people leave their jobs or cut back on their careers. It hasn’t been a burden felt equally. “There are about 225,000 more men in the labor force than before the pandemic, but 427,000 fewer women,” Adams said. She also noted a decline in the number of child care workers.
“Universal [child care] has tremendous benefits for our workforce, mothers, parents, caretakers, businesses and [New York] City as a whole,” Menin said in a statement. “It gives back the choice of being in the workforce.”
Without child care, even the simplest indulgences slip out of reach. “Sometimes my wife and I can’t even go on dates,” said Council Member Kevin Riley.
“Today’s unprecedented legislative package will make a huge difference for parents across this city, especially women in the workforce.” City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams