‘During the pandemic, people who need the assistance of caregivers for either their infirm parents or young children find their risk of COVID-19 increased in significant ways.’
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to unprecedented unemployment and financial disruption across New York City. As is usually the case, increased stress falls hardest on those least able to withstand it. Fortunately, the template to solve this problem already exists: CDPAP, the Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Program (“CDPAP”), which is funded through Medicaid to pay family members to provide in-home eldercare. Extending this benefit to more families, and to include childcare, is an attainable solution to a complex problem.
During the pandemic, people who need the assistance of caregivers for either their infirm parents or young children find their risk of COVID-19 increased in two significant ways: exposure to themselves when they leave for work and again in the home from caregivers coming from outside the family “bubble.”
Amaury Garcia sees the effects on the staff of his salon, Jennelle Unisex in Washington Heights, every day. I was honored to be invited in to talk with them and hear their concerns, which, today, are intently focused on the difficulty of their children attending school during the pandemic. In-school learning is too risky and considered a last resort for many families, while remote learning is a struggle without someone to supervise and guide the children while the parent is working. As the single mother of a public-school student myself, I share these struggles. When asked what I could do, I turned the question back to them and asked “what do you think we should do?” As a human rights advocate and attorney who has worked side-by-side with members of my community designing successful policy solutions, I know I don’t have all the answers but there is real knowledge and power in the collective intelligence of our community.
In fact, it was stylist Miguelina Guerrero who shared with me the idea of expanding CDPAP to cover childcare. As is often the case, those most directly impacted know best what will meet their needs. Extended family and friends can often be available to provide the necessary care but a Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. – 3 p.m., “favor” with the demands of a job can be too much to bear, even for those you love. CDPAP helps resolve the dilemma: the caregiver is already someone you trust, already inside your bubble, and government aid to support both the caregiver and the working parent is the perfect solution.
Watching your cousins and siblings is something many of us have been doing for generations, so CDPAP does not require burdensome licensing. At the same time, because safety remains the most important concern, family members with serious illnesses are excluded from the program so their care is left to professionals. The program to care for seniors has been in place in New York since 1995 and has made it possible for so many New Yorkers to afford care for their parents. Now is the time to expand the program to childcare.
While such a program may seem novel, it would not be the first time a national emergency encouraged the government to step up like this. During World War II, the Lanham Act was used to fund childcare centers across the country so mothers could work while their husbands were at war. Today, when so many families are either two-income or single-parent households, children in need of care while their parents are at work remains a serious concern and CDPAP can provide the solution. Unlike in the 1940’s, it wouldn’t be necessary to build or staff childcare centers because the recipients already have the space and the staff: their family, in their own homes.
So many of the parents who find themselves torn between the demands of work and family are the workers who keep our community running. From the front-line hospital employees to the staff keeping our grocery stores and bodegas and laundromats open, to the restaurant delivery workers that let us stay safe at home, we are demanding so much during the pandemic. The sacrifices they make deserve more than just our thanks. If all the support we show is a 7 p.m. community cheer or a branded tagline at the end of a soap commercial, our praise is nothing more than lip service. For our society to function, we need to provide real, tangible financial support to workers’ families.
The pandemic took something from everyone but, like most things, directs its pain at the most vulnerable. If we learn those lessons, and remold our government to alleviate that pain, the new world we create—by strategizing with our communities and through the expansion of programs like CDPAP—may be the silver lining on the cloud currently hanging over us all.
Angela Fernandez, Esq is the former Commissioner for the NYS Division of Human Rights and a Candidate for City Council in Manhattan’s 10th District.