Our Hope for The State of New York Children: Excelsior!
Governor Cuomo delivered his annual State of the State address, outlining his legislative and budget aspirations and priorities for the coming year. There was much to cheer about in the address, including the Governor’s exhortation that we resist efforts to divide and pit groups against one another, and commit instead to “pull[ing] each other up” and to always reach higher as a state. Among the specific proposals announced that will strengthen New York families and children was a pledge to implement the First 1,000 Days on Medicaid initiative, aiming to generate better health and well-being outcomes for young children. Another welcome pledge was to increase investment in pre-K, albeit by a modest amount.
There were also some disappointing omissions for New York families. The Governor made no commitment to increasing investment in child welfare. This omission comes on the heels of last year’s devastating cut of $62 million to the State’s foster care block grant, and at a time when county child welfare services are straining to meet rising demand for supports and services as a result of the opioid epidemic. Nor did the Governor commit a single new dollar to expanding access to quality child care, or even to restoring the $7 million cut to child care subsidies last year – a demoralizing omission given that 80% of NY working families earning less than 200% of poverty receive no child care subsidies due to inadequate subsidies.
New York can – and must – do better for its children. Since the Great Recession, New York State has made a steady, albeit slow and uneven, economic recovery. Last year, the State’s economy was ranked among the strongest in the nation (12th).1 Yet, even as New York’s economic indicators have improved, the state still fails to provide many of our children with the basic supports they need to grow, learn and thrive. As a result, more of our children live in poverty, suffer maltreatment, and struggle to succeed in school than in many other states.
New York has the knowledge and tools to do better by our children, and to provide them the stepping stones they need to set them on a path to achieving their potential. What our children need for a strong start is well-understood and non-controversial: strong and economically stable families; healthy bodies and minds; a home and community that shelters them from violence and stress; and a sound education that includes early learning opportunities. Proven ways to provide all our children those stepping stones include robust working family tax credits; quality affordable child care; strong public health systems; access to quality mental, dental and physical health care including developmental screenings and referrals; home visiting and other family strengthening that can prevent children from experiencing toxic stress; and equitable access to quality, culturally responsive education, including early education.
It is time for New York to make our children its number one priority – particularly this year when the state is facing real and significant budget challenges; challenges that will likely be made greater by expected federal cuts to education, health, and safety net programs.
On Tuesday, January 9, we’ll be releasing data on the state of New York children. We will highlight health, child welfare, economic status, and educational achievement indicators for our children, and policies that can pull us up – Excelsior!
President & CEO
1 http://www.businessinsider.com/state-economy-ranking-q4-2015-2016-1/#13-oregon-39. (State economies and D.C. ranked by Business Insider on seven measures: unemployment rates; GDP per capita; average weekly wages; recent growth rates for nonfarm payroll jobs; GDP; house prices; and wages.)