Even as summer camps and public pools reopen, Mayor de Blasio and the NYC Health Department have repeatedly failed to provide any guidance to child care centers. 
New legislation would allow centers to immediately and safely reopen, with clear health and safety guidance, providing relief to working families and struggling providers.

NEW YORK — Council Members Brad Lander and Debi Rose today announced their intention to introduce legislation that would allow all child care centers in New York City to immediately reopen with proper health and safety protocols. Despite weeks of repeated requests to City Hall and the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, child care centers still have no guidance or ability to re-open. Hundreds of thousands of working parents still have no child care options.  

In April, the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) mandated a shutdown of all independent, education-based child care centers and preschools. Family or home-based programs, which are overseen by New York State, and city-run centers providing child care for essential workers were allowed to remain reopen (though many family-based programs chose to shutter given low attendance and high costs to remain open). 

For weeks, child care providers have repeatedly requested clarification about timeline and guidance for reopening. On June 10th, Council Members Lander and Rose (who chairs the Council’s Community on Youth Services) sent a letter to the DOHMH Commissioner requesting immediate reopening guidance for child care providers and day camp programs. Day camps were given the go-ahead to open last week. And yesterday, Mayor de Blasio announced that public pools will be re-opening. However, neither Mayor Bill de Blasio nor DOHMH have provided any guidance to allow child care centers to re-open. 

Given this vacuum of leadership, Council Members Lander and Rose have decided to introduce legislation that would allow centers to re-open, with clear health and safety guidelines.

“With New York City nearing Phase 3 of reopening and hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers heading back to in-person work, New York City must immediately allow child care centers to reopen, with comprehensive and clear health and safety guidance. If Mayor de Blasio and DOHMH won’t get it done, then the City Council will have to do it by law,” said Council Member Brad Lander. “Keeping child care centers shuttered is not only terrible for working families, many of whom are already being asked to report back to their workplaces (and more will be asked to do so in the coming months), but also for child care providers who operate on thin margins and can simply no longer afford to keep their doors closed. There is simply no way that New York City can successfully rebuild our economy in the months and years to come without accessible and affordable child care for working parents.”

“As the city prepares to enter Phase 3 of reopening and thousands more New Yorkers return to work, parents are struggling with childcare, and providers are struggling with the negative economic impacts of their centers remaining closed. It is unconscionable that our city has provided neither a plan nor resources for childcare and childcare providers. After repeated unanswered requests for guidance, I join Council Member Lander in introducing legislation requiring the city to immediately reopen childcare centers, following proper health protocols. It is impossible to reopen our city without reopening our childcare centers,” said Council Member Debi Rose, Chair of the Committee on Youth Services.

The COVID-19 crisis, exacerbated by decades of disinvestment in child care, risks permanently shuttering child care centers across the country. Permanent closures of child care centers in New York City would create new child care deserts and increase the already-high cost of care for millions of working families. While New York State received over $160 million in CARES Act funds designated for child care assistance, additional investment is required to keep the industry afloat and costs down (particularly because when centers reopen they will face fewer seats and new costs related to health and safety compliance). Lander and Rose previously provided recommendations to Governor Cuomo for the disbursement of CARES Act funds. And while last week the Governor announced a new $65 million child care assistance program, it is unclear whether shuttered city child care providers are even eligible for the grants given the lack of information about their reopening.

To be sure, the reopening of child care centers must be responsible and safe. The New York State Department of Health recently issued interim guidance for child care and day camp providers which mirrors child care-specific guidance from the United States Centers for Disease Control. Further, the American Academy of Pediatrics released comprehensive guidance for schools, child care centers, and camp programs, which recommends the use of cohort classes and outdoor space to limit the spread of COVID-19. With the use of proper hygiene, small cohorts, adult social distancing measures, and the limitation of outside visitors, New York City child care centers can safely reopen and provide essential care and learning opportunities for the youngest New Yorkers. 

“How are we supposed to reopen our doors with so much uncertainty? We have already sustained huge losses in income since the quarantine began. The DOHMH has yet to communicate clearly what the new regulations will be: how many kids can our program serve? How much will the  PPE cost? Can we even get PPE given national shortages? All these questions, while in my school’s  case dealing with a landlord who has already sent a Notice of Default, and we are still mandated to stay closed,” said Eva Ruiz, Founder & Director, Mi Casita Preschool.

“I have been directing our beloved preschool for 20 years. It is an obscenity that while we are bailing out banks and funding riot gear, we are not preparing and supporting our teachers and families to reopen and run early childhood programs safely,” said Wendy Cole, Executive Director, Maple Street School.

“As our city continues to reopen, it is imperative for the city to provide full child care so parents who have not been able to work at their jobs for these last 3 months are able to safely return to work, knowing their children are in good hands. We thank Council Members Lander and Rose for their leadership,” said Rabbi Yeruchim Silber, Director of New York Government Relations, Agudath Israel of America.

“Early childhood programs prioritize above all else the health and safety of each child we serve. Without guidance from our licensing agencies (DOHMH, OCFS, DOE) we are unable to fully prepare for the return of our students. We are unable to secure funding for resources because we don’t know what we’ll need, how many children we will be able to serve, or what any of that will cost. Most irksome, we are unable to communicate effectively with families because we don’t know when and how our programs will reopen. Effective planning takes time and resources, and our licensing agencies are withholding both,” said Kristin Brady, Director, Cobble Hill Play School.

“After starting my early childhood center, nearly 8 years ago, to see the state of our beloved industry now is disheartening, said Andre Farrell, Executive Director, The Katmint Learning Initiative. “Is childcare no longer essential? They bailout banks and airlines, but why not the early child care industry? How can families in phase 1, 2 or 3 go to work if city programs are all closed? Without a customized bailout, grant or subsidies many programs do not stand a chance of survival. $65 million won’t cut it, Governor Cuomo. $300 – $1600 will not give us the sustainability we need to survive. Who will suffer the most? Women and minority owned programs, furthering the wage gap between men and women. Even worse: our black and brown children in many communities whose programs are a beacon of hope and provide fundamental foundations to children ages 0-5. Reopening guidance allows us to plan ahead. It puts DOHMH and childcare centers on the same page. It also says we value the expertise of every director, of every program. Without a seat at the table in partnership, a clear and effective reopening strategy can not be obtained.”

“We are a small non-profit preschool that, in order to remain for families and staff, will need to open but at roughly half capacity. We are looking at a budget shortfall at minimum of $250,000. How can we be expected to take out loans with such losses? How do our families get to go back to work if we are all at half capacity? Our staff is positioned to bear the brunt of policies we did not make, that run counter to what we know about children. We need grants, subsidies and a seat at the drawing board, before policies are enacted that put us out of business and do not ultimately support children and families,” said Medina Khalil, Executive Educational Director, Brooklyn Free Space.