Oct 26, 2023

WCAX: Advocates say $125M law is easing child care crisis

SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Are new state child care subsidies approved earlier this year beginning to ease the pinch on parents? Vermont lawmakers invested nearly $125 million to overhaul what many describe as a child care crisis. and advocates say it’s paying off.

The Homestead Preschool opened up a new facility in August in South Burlington and officials say the renovations -- and new slots for students -- were made possible by a big infusion of tax dollars. The school’s Joanne Pillsbury says they were able to renovate six classrooms and offer a 10% bump in pay to recruit more child care workers.

“I hired 25 new staff over the summer. That’s a direct result of anticipation of the funding from Act 76 coming in,” Pillsbury said.

The child advocacy group Let’s Grow Kids helped organize a tour for state Democratic lawmakers Wednesday. “Thousands of families in Vermont will now be eligible for tuition assistance to help them pay for child care, so child care will be more affordable for thousands of Vermonters where it wasn’t before,” said the group’s Aly Richards

Some $20 million was available this fall to private child care providers to increase staff, renovate facilities, and other improvements. Under the new law, a family of four making up to $172,000 will see big subsidies.

Governor Phil Scott vetoed the bill over cost concerns but the Democratic supermajority overrode his veto this summer. The new subsidies are funded through a 0.44 percent payroll tax that goes into effect next July.

For years, low child care provider wages have led to staffing shortages that meant long wait lists for families. Providers say opening slots for children means parents can get back to work. “They no longer have to choose between child care and a career they can have both,” Pillsbury said.

Let’s Grow Kids will tour the state in the coming months to showcase how investments are beginning to pay off in other communities. Lawmakers say It will take time for child care backlogs and staffing shortages to ease and more investments could be needed. “Down the road, once we’ve implemented the bill and done our housekeeping and done the implementation, if there are issues that are financial in nature we will certainly take those up,” said Sen. Phil Baruth, D-Chittenden County.

These payments are going to families and private child care providers. At the same time, a key committee is studying the feasibility of creating publicly-funded universal pre-kindergarten for four-year-olds.

Written by Calvin Cutler; originally published by WCAX on October 25, 2023.

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