TOMPKINS COUNTY, NY — The Coddington Road Community Center is planning a $4.8 million expansion of its child care facilities. An ambitious goal for over a decade, the project has been severely disrupted as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but perhaps the timing is better now.
“Before the people who spoke about childcare were people who had children and needed childcare. I think everyone is talking about childcare now,” said Heather Mount, the chief executive of Coddington Road Community Centre.
The pandemic has brought the issue into high profile, highlighting the high costs families face; the low margins that the centers are struggling with and the resulting low wages that workers in the industry typically earn; as well as the scarce availability of care at the outset.
Tompkins County is largely considered a childcare desert, according to data from the Center for American Progress. On average, there are six children for every available daycare spot in Tompkins County. Seat availability in Tompkins County has declined 68% between 2002 and 2020, further emphasizing the expansion Coddington is undertaking.
The $4.8 million capital project would add 48 new spots and 20 additional spots for after-school programs to the space Coddington has for pre-school age. It would be a big leap for the facility, which currently has a total of 82 slots, although demand is evident. There are over 130 families on Coddington’s waiting list.
The crux of the matter, however, is that not all funds for the expansion have been secured.
Approximately $700,000, or 20% of the funding, was secured by the Coddington Community Center through the Southern Tier Regional Economic Development Council (REDC), but the remainder of the cost must be funded through the community center’s own efforts. Mount said the interest rates that make the project achievable require at least $1.2 million to be raised for the expansion.
State grants, United Way grants, the Community Foundation of Tompkins County, and just plain old-fashioned fundraising are all revenue streams Mount says he’s exploring.
“We just need the community to recognize the importance of childcare and for this expansion to help everyone, not just our center,” Mount said.
The strong link between affordable childcare and economic growth has been a mainstay of some policy platforms and talking points, such as NYS Gov. Kathy Hochul. In a contentious week-long and record-breaking budget negotiation process, New York State saw $7 billion earmarked to fund subsidies and grant programs to support child care providers, employees, capital projects and even families. The Tompkins County Legislature released a statement Monday praising the investment.
While running childcare is a difficult business – which is why many are turning to working as non-profit organizations – it is also not being done at a price that parents can typically afford.
According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, affordable childcare should not cost more than 7% of family income. Coddington, which offers a tiered scale, grants, and works with families who qualify for assistance with their childcare bills, charges between $2,000 and $1,500 per month for infant care. and between $1,300 and $1,000 per month for preschool childcare.
According to the Economic Policy Institute, the average cost of preschool care in New York state is $1,030 per month and infant care is $1,283 per month. For a family to be able to sustain the median annual cost of baby care in New York and fall under the HHS definition of affordable childcare, they would need to earn nearly $220,000 per year.
What Coddington charges for care is just enough to avoid running into a deficit in the center’s operating budget, Mount says. Surpluses are sought through grants. While childcare facilities may be able to charge just enough to function, it is too much for most families to actually afford.
Mount said she regularly has conversations with parents who are considering quitting their jobs to take care of their children because the cost of childcare is just too high, when it really isn’t an option.
“If people shouldn’t spend more than 7% of their income […] – You know, if that’s true, then nobody should be paying the tuition we’re charging now,” Mount said. “Because I’m sure that $24,000 a year for a toddler is more than 7% of these people’s household income.”
For Mount, the state’s focus on the issues she’s spent her career on is exciting, but fears remain that attention won’t be renewed. The pandemic, Mount said, has made childcare “shiny,” and she feels the issue is finally being taken seriously as a “long-term societal problem,” but as funding dwindles, she said, “we’re going to keep coming back to the same thing.” Problem.”
For Mount, however, expansion is her big focus, which she expects to be sustainable going forward.
“That has been my focus for ten years. It will happen,” she said.