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Search continues for a sustainable child care funding solution

On Monday, child care workers and providers across the nation rallied together.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Child care workers and providers across the nation rallied together Monday including in Buffalo. Their goal was to show how the industry impacts everyone and to call for better wages, equity, and affordable care for all families.

The crisis in child care grew fervent during the pandemic but Felicia Williamson, the owner of 'My Precious Angels' on Bailey Avenue in Buffalo said it was a rude awakening for a lot of people.

"There's no workforce without us the nurses, the doctors, the police officers, the firefighters, they can't go to work without bringing their children to child care," Felicia Williamson said.

When centers like 'Precious Angels' were forced to temporarily close, the pressure was twofold. First, the families that wanted or needed help could not get it, and second, Williamson was forced to trim her already thin financial margins to stay afloat.

Williamson survived, but Sheri Scavone, CEO of the Western New York Women's Foundation, says not everyone did.

"Forty-two percent of women with children left the workforce during the pandemic, women were set back three decades of workforce participation when schools closed and 40 percent of the child care centers closed," Scavone said.

According to the results of a study funded by Erie County and conducted by Cornell University, in 2020 the average wage for a child care worker in Erie County was just over $23,000 - 88% of workers earning that wage were women, and two-thirds of workers identified as a racial or ethnic group other than white; meaning those temporary closures abnormally impacted woman and people of color.

Child care centers rely a lot on federal and state funding to pay for expenses, but as providers are looking to rebound after the pandemic they're finding that their previous stream of public money is no longer enough.

"McDonald's workers are making more than our workers sometimes because minimum wage keeps increasing but they're not increasing the funding that's given to us," Williamson said.

"So we know this model is fundamentally broken, it has to change if we're going to support our businesses, working families, and certainly if we're going to support childcare providers," said Scavone.

The goal now is to make child care available and affordable for all families whether that be through state funding increased or federal aid.

Scavone and Williamson both said they are encouraged by the $7 billion being pledged to support state child care over the next four years, but they also worry whether a one-time injection will be enough for sustained success.

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