January 18, 2023
ALBANY – Many families in New York are now paying so much in rent that they are having trouble covering all of their children’s needs, including food — causing a call from the Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York for the state to provide free school lunches and more help in subsidizing child care.
In a majority of counties — 49 — more than 20 percent of renters are facing unaffordable rent, according to a study released by the nonprofit Tuesday.
The committee looks at 18 indicators of well-being every year, from access to health care to the cost of rent. Those “serve as guideposts along a path toward a more equitable future,” the committee wrote in its report. The committee is a nonprofit that focuses on advocating for solutions to problems children face.
Most of the Capital Region did not rank in the worst or the best, ending up as “average,” but Montgomery, Greene and Fulton were in the bottom 10 out of the state’s 62 counties. In Greene County, for example, 30 percent of renters were paying rent that was more than half their income, compared to an average of 26 percent of renters. In Montgomery County, the child poverty rate was 29 percent, compared to a state average of 19 percent.
Saratoga and Warren counties were ranked in the top 10 for having the “fewest barriers” to well-being.
The cost of housing was one of the biggest problems facing families last year. In every county, more than 10 percent of renters were “severely rent burdened,” which was defined as paying more than half their income on rent. In 49 counties, more than 20 percent of renters were paying that much.
The committee is lobbying for a statewide housing access voucher program to help people afford apartments. The committee also wants the next state budget to include an increase in the Emergency Rental Assistance Program because there are so many pending applications. Undocumented families should also be allowed to get state and local funding to prevent homelessness, the committee said, and the “shelter allowance” should be increased to the fair market rent for that area.
Gov. Kathy Hochul made construction of new housing — particularly in the New York City suburbs — a large part of her State of the State address, a plan meant in part to impact affordability by flooding the rental market. But advocacy groups say any housing plan absent increased tenant protections, such as “good cause eviction,” and additional funding for housing vouchers, will fall far short of the intended goal.
In half the state, a majority of 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds aren’t enrolled in preschool. Part of that is the cost, though the state has started funding preschool for 4-year-olds and the state Board of Regents wants 3-year-olds to have free preschool by 2035. Each county Department of Social Services has a child care subsidy program. The committee wants undocumented families to be eligible for those funds. In addition, the committee wants the Empire State Child Credit expanded to households led by immigrants and households with children younger than 4. (Currently, the state credit isn’t available for younger children.)
For children in school, the committee is lobbying for the state to establish free school meals for all. That would include breakfast and lunch for all children, regardless of their family income. The federal government provided free meals in public schools regardless of income after the buildings reopened during the pandemic, but that program has ended. Some high needs districts, such as Albany, continue to be able to provide all free meals, but it is not a universal option.
The committee also wants the state to try a universal basic income for any resident while they are pregnant and while they are taking care of children under age 3. This would “support young child development and caregiver wellbeing,” the committee said in its report. The state already offers paid family leave, up to 67 percent of income, for 12 weeks.
Creatives Rebuild New York is trying a basic income program for artists. Ulster County, as part of a pilot paid for through a grant, offered a basic income in 2021 and 2022, but only to a limited number of people after taking applications.
The committee also found that in four counties, almost no babies die in their first year. (They were Cortland, Essex, Hamilton and Schoharie.) In 34 counties, more than four babies per 1,000 die.
The percentage of children without health care is also at a historic low in New York, at 2.6 percent, so the committee said the deaths could indicate that there are barriers in actually getting that care. Some counties also have more uninsured infants than the state’s average of 2.6 percent: the highest are Seneca, St. Lawrence and Yates counties, according to the report.
The committee is lobbying for many improvements to health care, though none are directly connected to infant mortality. Their biggest focus this year is on behavioral health services, where reimbursement rates don’t match the cost of service and waitlists leave families without help for long periods of time. The committee wants higher reimbursements, annual cost-of-living increases to those rates, and workforce retention programs like college loan forgiveness.
Likewise, rates should be increased for early intervention services for young children with disabilities and developmental delays, the committee said. Problems with the rate structure lead to some early intervention preschools closing every year.