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Guest Column: Leslie Danks Burke

Leslie Danks Burke is running for New York State Senate in the 58th district, which includes Schuyler, Chemung, Steuben and Yates counties, and part of Tompkins. Her office is at 700 N. Franklin St., Watkins Glen.

Child care crisis: We are letting down working parents and our children.

WATKINS GLEN, July 21, 2020 -- Even before the pandemic left families unemployed, underemployed or working from home, child care was operating on a very thin margin. Over 50% of New Yorkers live in child care deserts, areas where three times as many kids need care as licensed facilities are available. Child care often costs too much for working parents, and high-end child care centers in our region charge well over $1,000 a month. After-school care, which many parents need, can cost several hundred dollars a month.

COVID-19 transformed this crisis into a full scale emergency, leaving parents scrambling for help. The federal government allocated funds through the CARES Act, and that money started slowly coming to us, but $69 million is still tied up in red tape while most parents still can’t afford child care. Too many child care facilities risk closing permanently if we can’t get these funds out the door, making the problem worse. The longstanding stopgap in the U.S. has traditionally been grandparents, almost a quarter of who provide regular child care for their grandchildren. With seniors being most at-risk from the virus, it’s unclear how much longer we can -- or should -- expect our families to rely on the grandparent system. And with so much uncertainty around schools reopening, we don’t even know if school-age children will be home or will attend school on staggered schedules.

My own kids are in 5th and 9th grade, and it got complicated in March when my husband and I each started working from home as they started to “go” to school online. As a mom who 10 years ago juggled a law practice with having two toddlers, it's painful to consider parents trying to manage the stress of either working from home, or holding down an outside-the-home schedule with no child care. “It’s a nightmare to think about,” one working parent told me. Parents are considering unpaid furloughs from work, or cutting their income in half so that at least one parent can remain home with their kids. And even when New York releases the funds that have been promised, what happens when this money runs out? Can there be enough slots for parents able to dig deep into their pockets when they return to work?

The U.S. is one of the only developed countries in the world that expects working parents to figure out child care on their own. Many countries understand that investing in family leave and child care makes the economy stronger and families more secure. Other countries provide early childhood education from birth to five. Meanwhile, the American patchwork-plus-grandparents-and-other-relatives system really only works for folks who can afford expensive spots at excellent child care facilities or hire full-time in-home help. We are letting down working parents and our children.

Child care is the biggest barrier to rebuilding New York in the aftermath of the pandemic, says Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, who, for two years, has relentlessly spotlighted child care as an economic development concern. We need to act now.

We solved this problem in a hurry once before: During World War II, American mothers flocked into the workforce and child care became a national emergency. The federal government made child care a priority and almost 600,000 children attended subsidized federal child care centers. Then, Congress stopped the program when the war ended. What would work look like for today’s parents if the government continued to recognize the essential role child care plays in workforce development? It is time we found out.

Photo: Leslie Danks Burke

Schuyler County Officials

Legislature Members:

Top row (from left): Carl Blowers, Jim Howell, Michael Lausell, Van Harp

Bottom row: Gary Gray, David Reed, Phil Barnes, Mark Rondinaro


Legislature Chairman

Carl Blowers, 535-6174 or 237-5469

Legislature Members:

Gary Gray, 292-9922

Van Harp, 329-2160

Jim Howell, 535-7266 or 227-1141

David M. Reed, 796-9558

Michael Lausell, 227- 9226

Phil Barnes, Watkins Glen, 481-0482

Mark Rondinaro, 398-0648

County Clerk: Theresa Philbin, 535-8133

Sheriff: William Yessman, 535-8222

Undersheriff: Breck Spaulding, 535-8222

County Treasurer: Holley Sokolowski, 535-8181

District Attorney: Joseph Fazzary, 535-8383


State, Federal Officials for Schuyler County

Sen. Charles E. Schumer

United States Senate
313 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510-3201
DC Phone: 202-224-6542
DC Fax: 202-228-3027
Email Address:

Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand

United States Senate
478 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
DC Phone: 202-224-4451

State Senator Tom O'Mara -- Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Yates, western Tompkins, Enfield, Ithaca (Town and City), Newfield, Ulysses(Trumansburg)

Room 812, Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12247
Phone: (518) 455-2091
Fax: (518) 426-6976

Assemblyman Phil Palmesano-- Steuben, Schuyler, Yates
Room 723, Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12248
Phone: (518) 455-5791


© The Odessa File 2017
Charles Haeffner
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869