New York has become the 12th state that allows child care to qualify as a campaign expense. Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the legislation Tuesday, saying it is another step toward gender equality and will empower more parents, especially mothers, to seek public office.
Democrat Liuba Grechen Shirley’s children were ages 1 and 3 when she launched her campaign against Republican Congressman Peter King on Long Island in 2018. She petitioned the Federal Election Commission and became the first woman to receive federal approval to spend campaign funds on child care. And she applauded the new law in New York.
“This is a major breakthrough and it really will, it’ll get more women running for office,” says Grechen Shirley.
She says many women wait until their children are grown to run for office.
“You look at Nancy Pelosi. She waited until her youngest child was 17 to run. And we have, at the federal level, women don’t get into leadership positions until they’re usually in their 60s and it’s, frankly, because they wait until their children are grown,” Grechen Shirley says. “By the time we’re 44 years old, 88 percent of American women are moms. So if we’re not supporting getting moms to run, we’re actually not supporting the vast majority of American women.”
She is the founder of a PAC she launched in January called “Vote Mama,” supporting Democratic mothers with young children running for offices from school boards to Congress.
“With Vote Mama, we are working to make it the norm that women can step up and run when they’re ready, not when society tells them they’re ready,” says Grechen Shirley. “We want to make it the norm that people run with young children and not the exception.”
Westchester County Democrat Shelley Mayer sponsored the bill in the Senate. She mentions the inspiration of Grechen Shirley, saying it was important to pass state law rather than rely on a ruling that could be overturned.
“And I think by having it in the law, you’re going to encourage, as I say, people to say, maybe I could run,” Mayer says. “I would say, myself, I chose not to run as a young parent, in part, because I was discouraged by other women in elected office, that it was just too hard having young children.”
She says adopting such an attitude doesn’t have to be the norm.
“And I can just tell you having been around Albany for a long time, that having the voices of new parents, particularly young mothers, come and speak with passion about the issues that they face has added so much to the dialogue, and that’s going to be the case everywhere,” says Mayer.
Manhattan Democrat Linda Rosenthal sponsored the bill the Assembly. She says an aspect of New York’s legislation that allows campaign funds to go toward child-care expenses for elected officeholders as well as candidates appears to be a first.
“Particularly mothers are in charge of childcare, and if they’re elected officials we shouldn’t have them choose between spending their entire salary on child care or doing their job properly,” Rosenthal says.
Rosenthal underscores that the funds used for childcare are not from taxpayers.
“This is money that candidates raise from their supporters, and their supporters know, or should know, what the money that they are donating goes toward. So you assume it goes toward advertising and mailers and phone calls and other campaign expenses,” says Rosenthal. “So they just need to know that now this kind of funding can also go to child care, all in the service of having the candidate and the elected official do a great job.”
The bill's provisions are effective in 60 days.