With City Hall as her backdrop, and cheered on by a historic women-majority City Council, Upper East Side Council Member Julie Menin announced on Thursday five new pieces of legislation aimed at making universal child care a reality in the city.
“New York City is facing an affordability crisis with child care,” Menin said. “We’re literally leaving mothers, fathers and children behind. I’m a mother of four and this is a deeply personal issue for me.”
New York is ranked as home to the fifth most expensive child care system in the U.S., compared to other states, according to World Population Review, an independent data organization. Menin’s office cites a New York City Comptroller’s report, pitching the average cost of infant care at more than $21,000 per year and care for toddlers at over $16,000 per year, as evidence of the financial strain on families. From 2015 to 2020, she announced, the city lost over 1,000 day care centers.
Now, Menin hopes to bring about change with the introduction of five bills backed by more than a dozen other council members, like one to create an advisory board, which would make policy recommendations to enact universal child care within five years. Another would establish a fund for child care programs facing financial hardship. Two pertain to the digital realm, one launching a child care directory for the city, which doesn’t currently exist, and another creating a portal with information on child care subsidies. A final bill calls for a program through which buildings could become child care “certified.”
A Family Affair
At the rally on Thursday morning, Menin was joined by a robust crowd of supporters, including fellow council members and like-minded advocates from the Day Care Council, the Committee for Hispanic Children and Families, local union 32BJ SEIU and more.
Reaching the point of introducing legislation was a momentous occasion. “We’ve been talking about this for years,” Brooklyn Council Member Jennifer Gutiérrez said. “And why hasn’t it happened? Because it directly impacts women and it directly impacts women of color. That’s why it hasn’t passed, that’s why it hasn’t moved forward — because women never are the priority.”
A common thread in council members’ remarks was the role that the women-majority City Council played in getting Menin’s proposed legislation on the table. Many speakers, like Council Member Rita Joseph, whose Brooklyn district includes neighborhoods southeast of Prospect Park, referenced being mothers themselves.
“Legislation like this is why we’re excited about our female majority in the council,” Joseph said. “Yes, representation matters. But now that we have 31 women, it’s time to roll up our sleeves and do the work.”
Council Member Eric Dinowitz, representing District 11 in the Bronx, spoke about child care as a responsibility that burdens not just mothers, but also fathers and other family members. In the case of families with multiple children, universal child care would make it so that “high school students don’t have to stay home, don’t have to watch their younger siblings — that they can focus on their education, focus on their internships, focus on their jobs,” said Dinowitz, who was formerly a teacher.
“An Equitable, Feminist Recovery”
Speakers emphasized that all children should benefit from accessible child care. “Universal child care is not universal if it does not cover undocumented children,” Menin said.
Others highlighted inequity relating to race and labor. “Child care is an industry that employs immigrant women of color across our city,” Washington Heights Council Member Carmen De La Rosa said. “And it’s not only important to invest in child care because of our children who need it, but because of those women who are providing the care.”
Menin’s office reports that women make up over 90 percent of child care employees, with 25 percent of child care workers experiencing poverty.
As many families likely have experienced firsthand, child care is also linked with the city’s re-awakening after COVID-19 shutdowns — and all that’s changed over the course of the past two pandemic years. “We don’t have a recovery in our city,” Queens Council Member Tiffany Cabán said, “we don’t have an equitable, feminist recovery in our city without universal child care.”
“New York City is facing an affordability crisis with child care. We’re literally leaving mothers, fathers and children behind. I’m a mother of four and this is a deeply personal issue for me.” Council Member Julie Menin