• Jeff Bezos, Alexis Ohanian, and other donors gave $50 million to fund NYC childcare programs. 
  • A public policy professor says that while fulfilling a need, private sector charity alone isn't a long-term fix.
  • That's why the state of New York has also pledged $7 billion this year to fix the childcare crisis.

Amazon's Jeff Bezos and Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian are committing $50 million to help fix the childcare crisis in New York City.

And the city government is matching the donation with $50 million of its own.

The Bezos Family Foundation, Ohanian, and other donors announced their commitment to Robin Hood, a charity that works to alleviate problems caused by poverty in New York City, at a benefit held this week. The big name donations are just a drop in the $7 billion bucket that the state has proposed to contribute to childcare this year. 

"This fund will help New York City use the money the state government has allocated for child care vouchers and ensure all eligible New Yorkers can access this support," Cathryn Vaulman, a representative for Robin Hood, told Insider. 

Vaulman emphasized that Robin Hood's work with the city is a public-private partnership, a collaboration between the government agency and a private-sector company that can be used to bankroll projects, that has existed for years. 

"Neither government nor philanthropy can solve all problems on their own," she said. "You can find many, many examples of how the most impactful policy changes you can think of were borne out of philanthropic partnerships." 

In response to Insider's request for comment, Elyse Rowe, Director of Communications at the Bezos Family Foundation, noted that the organization has previously supported Robin Hood, including through an $11 million grant toward Robin Hood's Fund for Early Learning in 2017.

Alexis Ohanian and the New York City mayor's office did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment. 

Charity isn't sustainable unless it's paired with solid public investment, experts say

The money comes at a time when the pandemic made a childcare crisis in New York City — and across the country — even worse. Between 2014 and 2019, the number of providers in New York state dropped by 3,300, according to The Times Union. In several parts of the city, there is only one child care spot available for every five infants, according to state data. 

It's holding many parents back from re-entering the labor force after the pandemic exodus. Many quit in search of higher pay, remote work, and safer working conditions, but a lot of parents left their jobs to take care of their kids. 

Which means this fresh $100 million will go far to address those problems. But relying on the private sector to fix social problems may be unsustainable in the long run, even if its contributions are immediately useful. 

"In general, it is a mistake to rely on private interests who provide these sorts of public goods," Pat Garofalo, the director of state and local policy at the left-leaning American Economic Liberties Project told Insider. "That's not how you want to provide early childcare education, which history shows should be in the realm of the public." 

That tracks with a 2021 report by New York State Senator Jabari Brisport's office and the Alliance for Quality Education which found that a history of "treating and funding child care as a private service rather than vital public infrastructure has left the system on the verge of collapse." 

The report went on to say that "piecemeal approaches and temporary solutions have kept New York's child care system on life support, many child care centers have already been forced to close, and parents are struggling to access the child care they need." 

After all, Jayce Farmer, a public policy professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, told Insider that wealthy private donors "aren't really contractually committed to making long term and permanent funding commitments." Government investments, on the other hand, provide "a good chance that that's a sustainable funding choice."

Garofalo has another idea for getting the ultrawealthy to contribute to public coffers on a regular basis. He says that taxing companies like Amazon directly, as well as the people who run them, is a more effective way of ensuring that services like childcare programs are funded. He also suggested that forgoing this tax income means communities are losing out on money they are entitled to.

"The public has, to a very large extent, helped Amazon build its business," Garofalo said. "Subsidies helped Jeff Bezos get his riches, a tiny fraction of which he puts into public programs." 

Amazon has won more than $4.18 billion in government subsidies throughout the United States since 2012, a study published this year by UNI Global Union, a union federation for the skills and service sectors, found.  

For now though, Jason Cone, chief public policy officer at Robin Hood, told Insider that public-private partnerships are "fertile ground" to take risks on "unproven interventions that the government isn't ready to take." 

"Philanthropy has to be very intentional, and I think Robin Hood is very intentional," he said. "Our goal is not to replace government, it's to make the best business case for societal investments. Public-private partnerships are really necessary, and I don't think we can solve these problems by just doing one or the other." 

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