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Vermont Senate Unanimously Passes Landmark Child Care Bill

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 30, 2021 
    
Media Contact: Nicole Haley, 802-391-0545, nicole@letsgrowkids.org

Today the Vermont Senate and House called child care a unifying issue during a joint press conference following the Senate’s unanimous 30-0 passage of H.171, the child care bill. 

H.171 includes $12.7 million in immediate, increased investments in child care to support Vermont’s economy and our children, and help families return to work. At the same time, the bill lays a foundation for Vermont to achieve affordable access to high-quality child care for all families who need it.

“This has been a unique and extremely challenging legislative session but we have been dogged and focused and we've achieved something very exciting today: broad agreement that high-quality, affordable child care is essential for Vermonters,” said Senate Pro Tempore Becca Balint. “Child care was a unifying issue before the pandemic but COVID-19 revealed in really stark terms just how essential our early childhood education system is to Vermont families.”

Widespread support for the bill was evident early on with 95 co-sponsors in the House. In March, the House passed H.171 with an overwhelming 146–1 vote.

“We want to make sure that every child in Vermont has access to crucial support. Right now we know there are families spending more than 30 percent of their income on child care even with financial assistance. It's just not sustainable and it forces families to make tough choices including leaving the workforce,” said House Speaker Jill Krowinski. 

Today’s passage of H.171 in the Vermont Senate comes on the heels of national headlines about President Biden’s American Families Plan proposing $425 billion investments in child care and pre-K.

"The child care policy discussions happening at the national level validate the work we’ve been doing in Vermont for years. The pandemic has shown us what we already knew—child care is essential infrastructure. It’s exciting to see bold action being proposed at the federal level and it’s especially exciting to see Vermont moving legislation forward that gets us closer to funding early childhood education as the public good that it is,” said Let’s Grow Kids CEO Aly Richards. 

Representative Ann Pugh, chair of the House Human Services Committee, talked about high-quality child care being a critical support for families living in poverty. 

“High-quality child care is key for all families and is particularly essential for families living in poverty who have fewer other resources to draw from. COVID-19 has only exacerbated existing inequalities in our system,” Representative Pugh said. “High-quality child care keeps children safe and healthy, it helps them develop the skills they need for success in school and in their lives outside of school and enables their parents go to work.”

H. 171 was fast-tracked in the Senate and had strong support in the Senate Health and Welfare and Senate Appropriations Committees before being unanimously passed on the Senate floor.

Senator Ginny Lyons, chair of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, talked about the need for increased support for early childhood educators which the bill starts to address with funding for scholarships and student loan repayment. 

“We talk about the expense of child care and the expense of keeping our child care centers open but what we need also to understand is that these child care experts are frequently paid thousands of dollars less than their peers in other similar professions, as much as $17,000 in wages less. That’s unconscionable,” Senator Lyons said. 

H.171 increases funding for Vermont's Child Care Financial Assistance Program (CCFAP) and describes a goal for the state that no family spend more than 10 percent of their annual income on child care.

Ali Koonz, a single parent, worked as an ER nurse at a southern Vermont hospital during the pandemic. Even with a supportive employer, she simply couldn’t afford the child care she needed during long shifts in the ER so she ended up switching jobs within the organization. 

“During the pandemic, I couldn’t rely on my parents to cover child care gaps during long shifts in the ER. I changed jobs, reduced my hours, and took a pay cut to be there for my kids. I love the work that I do now but the job change has been a financial sacrifice for my family,” Koonz said.

Adeline Druart, president of Vermont Creamery, is one of several employers that have been advocating for a statewide solution to Vermont’s child care crisis for a long time. Druart experienced child care challenges firsthand when she was a new parent. Today she oversees 140 employees, mostly in manufacturing, many of whom have young children.

“Our number one challenge has been staffing. If our employees don’t come to work because they don’t have access to child care, we can’t run our business. We’ve worked hard at Vermont Creamery to create a culture that supports new parents but we cannot solve this problem alone,” Druart said. 

H.171 makes $12.7 million in immediate increased investments in Vermont’s child care system, including:

  • $5.5 million to make more families eligible for CCFAP, reduce family co-pays, and increase reimbursements paid to child care programs;
  • $4.5 million to upgrade the failing IT system used to administer Vermont’s early childhood education system;
  • $2.5 million to increase investments in existing scholarships for current early childhood educators and create a new scholarship program and student loan repayment support program for new early childhood educators; and
  • $200,000 for a systems analysis of Vermont’s early childhood education system to strengthen and streamline governance, administration, and accountability structures and resources.

In addition, H.171 lays the foundation for the accessible, affordable, high-quality, equitable system we need in the future. The bill:

  • Describes goals for the state that a family will spend no more than 10% of their annual income on child care and that Vermont’s early childhood educators will be fairly compensated and well supported;
  • Strengthens systems to ensure that voices of those most impacted by the system are informing the state’s work to administer the child care system and allocate federal COVID response funds for child care; and
  • Charges experts with identifying a stable, long-term funding source for a transformed child care system.

About Let’s Grow Kids

Let’s Grow Kids is a nonprofit organization on a mission: ensuring affordable access to high-quality child care for all Vermont families by 2025. With over 30,000 supporters from all walks of life, Let’s Grow Kids is facilitating the movement to strengthen the early childhood education system today and calling for lasting investments in child care. Together, we can give children a strong start and build a better Vermont for generations to come. Learn more at www.letsgrowkids.org.
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