By Jessica Reynolds
The Daily Star
---- — Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand recently introduced new legislation to make child care more affordable for working parents — like one Otsego County woman who said she works two, sometimes three jobs to keep her daughter in day care.
During a conference call on Tuesday, Gillibrand described the struggles that thousands of working New York families face when trying to find affordable day care for their children. In 2012, she said, a two-parent family in New York spent an average of 16.5 percent of their annual income on care for their infant. For a single mother in New York, the cost of care could be greater than 57 percent of her income. New York was ranked the second least-affordable state for full-time infant day care in 2012, Gillibrand said.
The Oneonta mother, who did not want to give her name, said she was not surprised by this statistic. She said she works multiple jobs to afford the $195 per week to send her child to the YMCA’s Jumpstart program, adding that it is worth the money, but hits her pocket hard.
“We do get day care subsidies,” she said, “I’m a full-time teacher, but it’s not enough, so I work more jobs to make ends meet. It definitely affects our food budget. It affects everything. We have to cut back.”
Gillibrand’s proposed legislation, which will be voted on this week, she said, would more than double the federal child care tax credit, allow parents to deduct child care as a business expense. The bill would also make improvements to the Child Care and Development Block Grant, which provides funding for monthly day care subsidies for low-income families, she said.
Melissa Jervis, a mother of two from Oneonta, said it’s “very difficult” to find day care in this area, especially one that a parent is comfortable with.
Jervis, who works at General Electric, said her 2-year-old, Trey, goes to Angel’s Daycare, an Oneonta family group day care run by Angel Ferguson. Jervis and her husband, a lawyer, decided to bring their son there because of the small, family-oriented atmosphere, Jervis said.
There used to be many more in-home day cares in the area, explained Angel Ferguson, but said the number has dwindled in part because of the many strict regulations and requirements that providers must meet. In-home care is especially sought-after because many parents prefer the “home-y” feel that comes with a provider who has a kitchen and a living room, Ferguson said.
Donna Sorrentino, who runs Tender Loving Care Daycare in Laurens, said parents tell her that the hardest day care to find is for infants because the providers don’t want to have to follow the strict requirements that go along with providing infant care. It is also not very cost-effective, she said. One staff member is required for every two infants, she said, and not many providers want to hire that many helpers. This results in very few infant slots available. Sorrentino said she has one client who brings her child all the way from Norwich because of the day care shortage and high prices.
Help is available for parents who are sorting through their options. Referrals to licensed child care providers are available from each county’s Department of Social Services, Catholic Charities or Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies. For Otsego County, the CCRR agency is the Schoharie County Community Action Program Inc. For Delaware County, it’s Delaware Opportunities.
Day care is a big expenditure for families, no matter where you choose to bring children, Jervis said. It’s worth it, she said, because she is happy with both Angel’s Daycare and the Oneonta Family YMCA’s Jumpstart preschool program, where her 4-year-old attends day care, but the family still spends a large portion of its income on these services. She said she has had to put money aside to afford day care for her two sons.
“We spend a lot on it,” Jervis said, “For people with less income, I can imagine it’d be really tough to afford. They might have to end up staying home with their kids or at a place that’s not state-affiliated.”
As a mother herself, Gillibrand said she sympathized with parents, noting that the cost and availability of day care affects almost every New York family. As prices increase and paychecks remain the same, she said, the middle class is left feeling the pinch.
This is especially true now, Gillibrand said, because more women than ever are present in the workforce and they are going back to work sooner after having children. The man is no longer the sole breadwinner, Gillibrand said, and women have to work for a living, as well, to be able to help provide for their families.
The hard part, Gillibrand said, comes when trying to find affordable care for children while you are at work. Women are left with a few options, she said, either pay an arm and a leg for day care or leave your job to raise your kids.
Sorrentino, who has a master’s degree in education, said Tender Loving Care Daycare costs $150 a week for infants, $145 for 2-year-olds and $140 for three-to 12-year-olds, which is on target with Otsego County’s average cost for group family day care, according to Opportunities for Otsego.
Ferguson said she charges $150 a week per full-time child which, she said, she feels is reasonable for the area, especially when you consider that breakfast, lunch and two snacks are provided. Ferguson said many of her parents have told her that her prices are cheaper than at a center.
“It’s expensive to run a day care at home,” Ferguson said, “but I don’t want to have the parents have to work just to pay for day care. If parents say to me ‘I’m not getting paid until next week,’ we have the flexibility to work with them to plan out payments, whereas a center with a large staff and payroll may not be able to give them that kind of a break.”
Jervis said day care centers like the Oneonta Family YMCA provide children with a more education-based, school-like experience, which prepares them for kindergarten. The average cost at Otsego County day cares centers is $180 per week, according to statistics from Opportunities for Otsego.
Stacey Aruch, a teacher at the Oneonta Family YMCA’s Jumpstart preschool program, said full-day day care at Jumpstart costs $195 per week. Families can choose from full-day and half-day options, she said, and all 4-year-olds who live in the Oneonta City School District are eligible for two-and-a-half hours of free Universal Pre-Kindergarten, with the option of paid “wrap-around” care to fill out the day.
The Oneonta Family YMCA’s child care, located in the old Center Street School building, differs from other providers because it is largely fitness-based, Aruch said. Children are involved in yoga, dance, swimming and other health-related activities, all in a school-based environment.
“They have access to a real school playground and we take walks to the YMCA for swimming,” Aruch said. “This really gets them ready to be in an actual school and also builds their stamina for the long day they will have in kindergarten.”
Marie Petta, director at Bugbee Children’s Center, said more than 100 children are enrolled at Bugbee, ranging in age from eight weeks through school-age. Prices are on a sliding fee, based on income, she said, and the center accepts subsidies. For 3-year-olds without any other assistance, fees range from $172 to $209 per week for full-time care.
Meals and snacks are included as well as formula and baby food for infants, Petta said. Fees are still charged even when children are absent, Petta said, which is standard for day care centers in the area, including the YMCA.
Petta said there are many avenues that parents can take if they are feeling the pinch of costly day care pricing. There is Headstart, provided by Opportunities for Otsego, as well as universal pre-kindergarten.
In general, families are eligible for financial assistance if they meet the state’s low income guidelines and need child care to work, look for work, or attend employment training, according to Schoharie County Community Action Program Inc. In most cases, families receiving a child care subsidy can choose any legal child care provider. To apply for a subsidy, parents can contact their local Department of Social Services.
But, “It doesn’t have to be this expensive,” Gillibrand said of day care. “I pay 10K a year for my kids to be in day care, and that’s lower than the average. The tax break and new deduction will help families out in this area. I am optimistic that it will be passed.”
16.5 Percent of household income spent on day care for one child by the average New York family