ALBANY — CSEA child care members know there is power in collective action and that working together directly pays off — literally.

CSEA/VOICE Local 100A is celebrating a huge legislative victory on an issue that plagued providers since VOICE’s founding in 2002.

Thousands of child care providers across the state serve working parents who rely on assistance in the form of a child care subsidy to keep them working.

Without child care, many parents simply can’t afford to work. The subsidy system bridges that gap, ensuring that low income, qualifying parents can afford to go to work. More importantly, the system ensures children have access to quality care and early education, regardless of their parents’ earning power.

So, here is the issue. In New York State, when child care subsidy reimbursements are paid out directly to providers, it is issued in the form of a mailed paper check. This paper process regularly means delayed or lost checks, causing financial hardship for many providers who are already running on thin margins. For thousands of providers, it can be the only source of income to keep the lights on, employ assistants and continue providing services to parents so they can go to work.

To complicate matters, each county has a different payment system, which makes it nearly impossible to prescribe a single solution for all counties across the state.

Streamlining the system
Since its founding, CSEA/VOICE has worked to build solid relationships based on trust and respect with the state Office of Children and Families Services (OCFS) and county Departments of Social Services (DSS) across the state.

As CSEA/VOICE works with these agencies regularly to correct local issues within the payment system, providers discovered that direct deposit could help to standardize the process across the state and dramatically reduce, if not eliminate, delays in payments and stop the epidemic of lost checks.

Wells

“Requiring counties to give providers the option of how to get paid — a check or direct deposit — will create a more efficient and streamlined method for getting paid,” said CSEA/VOICE Local 100A President Pamela Wells. “Direct deposit is a tried and tested system — 99 percent and 95 percent of all Social Security payments and state pension checks, respectively, are processed this way. Offering this option will give small businesses like mine the ability to be paid on time while also saving counties money on postage and administrative costs from having to reissue checks.”

Despite what seemed like a losing battle, CSEA/VOICE providers did not give up. They kept direct deposit on the agenda for discussions for seven more years.

Fast-forward to the COVID-19pandemic, when CSEA/VOICE recognized a prime opportunity to again make a serious push for direct deposit.

Through ongoing, general child care advocacy work, CSEA/VOICE Local officers had an audience with State Sen. Jabari Brisport and Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi, who chair the Children and Families Committees in their respective legislative chambers. They discussed improvements that could make an impact supporting child care during the pandemic.

“We advised them that providers needed their pay as quickly as possible to maintain quality of care and services for essential workers,” Wells said. “The pandemic exacerbated issues that were already a problem and magnified by these payment issues.”

Brisport and Hevesi agreed that child care providers needed to be supported more than ever, and that paychecks not making it to providers led to instability in the industry.

The direct deposit legislation [A. 5840 Sarah Clark & (S. 5162 Jabari Brisport)] would deliver greater stability for providers and the families they care for.

Union member support
While this legislation was great news, providers knew they had to get it over the finish line.
With the assistance of the CSEA Legislative and Political Action Department, a letter writing campaign to reach individual legislators and key office visits with elected officials was the sweet combination for success.

More than 600 CSEA/VOICE members sent letters to elected officials detailing the hardship they face with the current child care subsidy payment system and their desire for direct deposit.

The bill passed and direct deposit, once just an idea, is now reality for all child care across the state, saving providers financial hardship and the state money. As this edition went to press, the bill was awaiting delivery to the governor.

“Because of the engagement of our members, the power of our unity and the relationships we have been building for many years, we were able to move forward during one of our most difficult and darkest times to solve a key issue,” said Wells. “Vision, persistence, patience and recognizing opportunity was our recipe for success. We are the union. We own it. We are empowered to solve any issue we face together.”

— Jill Asencio

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About Author

Jill Asencio

Jill Asencio is the statewide communications specialist assigned to CSEA Headquarters in Albany. She is a summa cum laude graduate of The College of Saint Rose and award-winning photo/video journalist and public relations professional. As part of CSEA’s communication team since 2007, she found her passion in labor, advocating for children and New York’s working families. Asencio understands first-hand the value of growing up in a union household and the deep connection unions have in ensuring strong, educated and healthy families.

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