CHENANGO COUNTY – Chenango County may see perks of more than $4.1 million in state aid that’s been awarded to support 26 child care assistance programs throughout the Southern Tier.
Nearly $70 million in total has been awarded across the state to areas without sufficient child care slots, dubbed “child care deserts” by New York State.
In 2021, Chenango County was declared a child care desert due to the lack of child care services, despite a high demand.
Recently announced state aid, which was included in New York’s $100 million child care desert initiative approved this year, was made available through the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and administered by the New York state Office of Children and Family Services.
The grants, announced by Gov. Kathy Hochul earlier this month, will help new child care providers in underserved areas build their programs, cover start-up and personnel costs, recruit, train and retain staff.
Funding could be a game-changer for Chenango County parents, many who struggle to find sufficient child care providers. Commerce Chennago has led a charge in recent years to pool resources to address the issue.
““We knew that money was coming; we just didn’t know what that would look like,” said Commerce Chenango President and CEO Kerri Green. “I definitely know it’s been an issue here.”
Green joined a regional group of constituents throughout Chennago and surrounding counties in 2021. But she said her focus quickly shifted to solving the problem of child care specifically in Chenango County.
“I put a group together between myself and the Chenango County Planning Department, and I contacted the local daycare providers and schools. We had a couple community members talking about this,” said Green. “We started meeting somewhat regularly throughout 2021.”
“Commerce Chenagno’s role in this was to bring these people together and say what’s going on, how we can address this as a group, what the deficiencies are, and what we currently have. We found what the inventory of childcare is and what, realistically, we have to pull from.”
The local group identified three organizations considering an expansion of childcare programs in Chenango County: the Family Enrichment Network, The Place of Norwich, and the Cullman Child Development Center of Sidney.
Under state funding regulations, a child care desert is defined as a census tract where there are three or more children younger than five for each available child care slot, or there are no available child care slots in the tract. Based on this criteria, more than 60 percent of New York State is considered a child care desert.
New York’s 2023 enacted budget includes an investment to expand access to high-quality child care to support children and families which state officials say will help stimulate New York State's continued economic recovery. It includes an unprecedented $7 billion investment over four years and increases the income eligibility threshold for child care assistance in August 2022 to 300 percent of the Federal Poverty Level ($83,250 for a family of four) – extending eligibility to more than half of New York State's children.