Jan 31, 2019

Child care bill would make core commitment to VT’s children

Tripartisan legislation would expand access to affordable, high-quality child care

Montpelier, Vermont — A tripartisan bill aimed at increasing Vermonters’ access to affordable, high-quality child care was announced by legislative sponsors at a State House press conference on January 29, 2019. 

The legislation would make investments in three key areas: 1) expanding Vermont’s tuition assistance program that helps lower- and middle-income families afford quality child care; 2) supporting Vermont’s early education workforce with scholarships, student loan repayment and refundable tax credits; and 3) offering tax credits to businesses that help their employees access child care. 

“In the face of a crisis we need to step forward,” said Representative David Yacovone, the child care bill’s lead co-sponsor. “We come here today with a bold plan that says it’s time to expand the level of assistance we’re providing families.” 

The legislation builds off of recommendations included in the How Are Vermont’s Young Children and Families? and Building Vermont’s Future from the Child Up Think Tank reports released by Building Bright Futures earlier this month.  

The legislation would improve Vermont’s Child Care Financial Assistance Program by expanding the income eligibility cap from 300% of the federal poverty level to 350%, and increasing financial assistance levels so that families earning up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level—about $50,000 for a family of four—would receive full assistance.

The facts are alarming: More than half of infants and toddlers likely to need child care in Vermont don’t have access to any regulated child care programs. Middle-income families are paying up to 40 percent of their household income on child care, even with tuition assistance. Meanwhile, Vermont child care workers earn less than a livable wage. Parents can’t pay more for child care and early educators can’t earn less. 

“What does it mean to be a parent in Vermont? It means struggling to find high-quality programs at a rate you can afford and often being forced to make tough choices,” said Savannah McKenzie, a Hyde Park mother and early educator who spoke at the press conference. “Some families are spending so much on child care they can’t afford to buy a house, pay off student loan debt or even have a second baby.”

McKenzie said she feels lucky to have her two boys attending the high-quality child care center where she works but the annual cost for an infant and preschool spot (about $30,000) nearly equals her entire annual income. If not for the child care benefit provided by her employer, McKenzie said she would have been forced to leave the workforce. 

“Vermont doesn’t have enough qualified early educators to fill open positions. This creates a lose, lose, lose situation. We lose for our children, we lose for our families and we lose for our communities,” said Rep. Theresa Wood, House lead co-sponsor of the bill. 

Legislators said the student loan repayment program for child care workers, refundable tax credits and scholarships proposed in the bill could help Vermont sustain and grow its early care and learning workforce.

The legislation would also incentivize employers to be part of the solution. A recent report on workforce development strategies from Vermont’s auditor noted that lack of adequate child care can result in employee absenteeism, lost productivity and retention and recruitment challenges. 

"Nearly every one of my business colleagues knows that child care is a crucial issue to our workforce,” said People’s United Bank President and recent Chair of the Vermont Business Roundtable Michael Seaver, who spoke at the press conference in support of the legislation. “It leads many qualified employees to leave the workforce—not because they want to, but simply because they cannot find or afford child care. This hurts their families, our businesses and our economy.”

Sen. Debbie Ingram, who is championing a companion bill in the Senate, noted that the reality families face today is much different than it was when she was growing up in the 1960s. These days, most families rely on two incomes. Seventy percent of Vermont children under age five have all available parents in the labor force, meaning they are likely to need some form of child care. 

“Other people’s kids are our kids, other employers’ workers are working for us, other parents’ early educators are our links to the adults of the future,” Sen. Ingram said. “This bill owns up to that reality and seeks to build a child care and early learning system that gives every child the foundation they need to succeed.”

Let’s Grow Kids Interim CEO Janet McLaughlin emceed the press conference. Let’s Grow Kids is investing in local communities to increase the availability of high-quality child care and mobilizing Vermonters to call for change so that every Vermont family has affordable access to high-quality child care by 2025.

“Let’s Grow Kids looks forward to working with the governor and the Legislature as well as our 30,000 supporters around the state—including parents, early educators and business and health care leaders—to take action this year,” McLaughlin. 

About Let’s Grow Kids

Let’s Grow Kids is a statewide movement to make Vermont the best place to raise a family and our mission is to ensure affordable access to high-quality child care for all Vermont families by 2025. We work with business, education and health care leaders, elected officials and local communities to build a high-quality child care system and our network of over thirty thousand supporters includes dedicated volunteers who advocate for increased public investment in child care to make it affordable for all Vermont families. Learn more at www.letsgrowkids.org.

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