By Michael Virtanen
ALBANY— Citing the need for reliable child care by New York working families, the state Assembly leader and several Democratic lawmakers issued a report Monday advocating more subsidies for care and for paid family leave.
"We have heard firsthand that the single largest obstacle to maintaining employment of parents, particularly mothers, is access to reliable, safe and nurturing child care that hard-working families can afford," said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. The report, saying New York "is in the throes of a child care crisis," followed talks with advocates and others statewide.
The Assembly's Democratic majority is committed to changing that, Silver said. The working group that produced the report included Assembly members Catherine Nolan, Carl Heastie, Michele Titus, Aileen Gunther, Donna Lupardo and Addie Russell. All chair key Assembly committees.
Their proposals call for better administration of state child care benefits, engaging businesses for public-private investment and ensuring New York's economic development policy contains a commitment to quality child care.
According to the report, state law authorizes local social service districts to fund child care for families with incomes up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level, for example, $39,060 for a family of three. Subsidies are also mandated for working families on welfare, with a one-year transitional benefit.
However, several counties only subsidize families at lower incomes, and many that use the 200 percent threshold have stopped taking applications. Poor working women are forced into cheap but often unregulated and unstable child care or have to quit their jobs, the report said.
The legislators proposed increasing state funding for subsidies, amending the law to disregard family income of children under 18 and setting standard family co-payments at 20 percent of their income above the poverty line.
Federal and state funding for New York's child care subsidies for the current fiscal year are $540.6 million, said Kerri Biche, spokeswoman for the Assembly Democrats.
On family leave, the report noted the federal requirement that public employers, as well as private businesses with 50 or more employees, grant eligible employees unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons for up to 12 weeks a year.
The legislators proposed amending New York's temporary disability insurance program to cover workers when family care responsibilities arise and raising the maximum weekly benefit above $170.
They also proposed expanding the state's unemployment insurance program that covers claimants who voluntarily leave jobs for good cause, which can include a "compelling family reason" such as domestic violence or an ill relative. They would include child care as a compelling family reason, saying the unemployment insurance appeals board and court interpretations have been inconsistent.
The report didn't estimate the cost of increasing subsidies or expanding temporary disability insurance or unemployment benefits. Those measures are among the Assembly majority's top priorities for 2014 and those costs are still being examined, Biche said.