New York City

Focusing on the seat, not a sitter

New York City should allow candidates to use campaign funds for child care

New York City Council membersLaurie Cumbo, Carlina Rivera and Margaret Chin.

New York City Council membersLaurie Cumbo, Carlina Rivera and Margaret Chin. Emil Cohen for the New York City Council

Liuba Grechen Shirley, a mother of two seeking the Democratic nomination in New York’s 2nd Congressional District, made a humble request to the Federal Election Commission: allow child care expenses to be a qualified campaign expense to let candidates focus on running.

Recently, a unanimous decision by the often-divided commission answered “yes," setting a landmark precedent for candidates running for federal office across the country: child care is an acceptable use of campaign funds.

It is time for New York City to follow suit. We introduced a bill in the New York City Council to allow local candidates to use campaign funds to cover certain child care costs. Specifically, it would permit campaign funds to be used for child care expenses when the candidate is a primary caregiver. By applying the FEC ruling to our local elections, this bill would benefit any primary caregiver interested in running for city office.

National research shows that women will particularly benefit from this legislation, as they usually assume more responsibility than men when it comes to managing work and family needs. A 2013 Pew Research Center survey found that while 42 percent of working mothers have to reduce their working hours to care for a child or other family member at some point in their career, only 28 percent of working fathers do the same.

According to a 2017 report from the City Council’s Women’s Caucus, women face a “political ambition gap” of choosing between a family and a career. In more than half of New York households, the woman is the breadwinner. Juggling work and child-rearing can create a significant barrier for female candidates – a barrier that may force a potential candidate not to run.

With just 11 female members, the council has fewer women today than at any point in the past 20 years. By removing one impediment to running that affects women more than men, we can make it easier to increase representation in a body that desperately needs it.

Skeptics will say that because this bill introduces a new use of funds, there may be concerns of where the money could go and whether it will start us on a slippery slope toward candidates being paid for running for office. If child care is covered, why not other expenses, like rent?

However, a key component of the bill is that any covered child care expense has to be a new need. To make sure no campaign funds are used incorrectly, a “statement of child care need” must be submitted by the candidate and approved by the Campaign Finance Board before any child care costs are incurred. This statement would have to show that the expenses “would not exist but for the campaign or campaign activities.” In other words, using funds for child care would have to be found necessary for a candidacy specifically.

We must realize that, for many New Yorkers, child care costs may be a necessary expense in a campaign. With a need for more female representation in office, it’s a no-brainer.

This bill is an important step forward in encouraging more women to enter public service. In passing it, we can all better serve parents, especially women, as they fight to serve New York City.