While his proposal for tuition-free college has gotten more attention, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s series of State of the State proposals released over the last week include another new benefit for middle-class families with children — little ones, in this case.
The governor is proposing a new enhanced middle-class child care tax credit that he says will help more than 200,000 families with incomes between $60,000 and $150,000 afford professional child care.
With 65 percent of children under age 6 having two working parents, Cuomo argues that there’s a need for child care, and that the credit could bring some stay-at-home parents into the workforce. He argues that parents staying at home because they lack or can’t afford child care results in lower workforce participation and lower productivity.
Cuomo on Monday also proposed a $35 million pilot program to create 22,000 new after-school slots in high-needs areas across the state, including Albany and Troy.
Neither proposal can become law without approval from the state Legislature, whose current relationship with Cuomo is rocky.
The child-care tax credit is aimed at families who likely live outside the high-needs urban areas the after-school program targets, and is targeted to those with young children whose care may be keeping them out of the workforce.
“Far too many parents have to sacrifice working to build their family’s financial future because affordable, high-quality child care is financially out of reach,” Cuomo said. “This newly enhanced credit will make it easier for more New Yorkers to be able to secure day care and able to enter or stay in the workforce with peace of mind.”
The effect of a tax credit would be to reduce the cost of child care, though families would still be paying for it.
But critics have noted that the state’s existing tax credit program for households earning $50,000 or less is falling short of meeting the need.
“Governor Cuomo’s expansion of the child-care tax credit is a step in the right direction, but he needs to go much farther in his executive budget toward addressing the unmet child care needs in New York state,” said Karen Scharff, executive director of Citizen Action of New York.
Child care remains unaffordable for the vast majority of families that earn under $50,000, said Scharff, whose organization advocates a tax increase on those making more than $1 million annually to help pay for child care.
The governor’s office said families earning less than $50,000 annually “already receive a considerable benefit.” In 2014, 520,000 families received a credit, and the program cost the state nearly $189 million.
His proposal would double and in some cases triple the existing benefit to families earning higher amounts, up to $150,000. The average benefit in that income bracket would increase from $169 to $376, if the governor’s proposal were adopted into law.
In Schenectady County, the governor’s office estimated 791 households could benefit, to the tune of more than $163,000 annually in state tax credits.
The proposal is a complicated way to make child care more affordable, and does nothing for families where a parent prefers to stay at home, or where an adult may be staying home to care for an aging parent, said Ken Girardin, a spokesman for the Empire Center for Public Policy.
“It looks to be a continuation of Albany’s tradition of tax credit gimmickry,” he said. “I would compare it to some of these tax credit rebate checks that elected officials have become addicted to having appear in our mailboxes right before elections.”
Kate Smith, communications director for the Capital District Child Care Council, said the group favors the proposed tax credit, though it doesn’t address all the needs of child care providers and parents needing high-quality, affordable child care.
“There’s a need for more high quality care in our communities and we’re always urging state government to invest more in child care,” said Smith. “We would also urge the state not to forget about the families that are making less.”
The council also favors Cuomo’s proposal for enhanced after-school programs. “They need to bring up the quality of the programs for school age,” Smith said.
The Capital District Child Care Council represents about 950 child care providers in Fulton, Montgomery, Albany, Schenectady, Saratoga and Rensselaer counties, most of them in-home day care providers.
Cuomo is currently outlining his child care proposals and other initiatives during State of the State speeches being delivered around the state. The series of six speeches will include Wednesday afternoon in Albany.