Jun 21, 2023

Child Care Advocates, Parents Celebrate Passage of Reform Bill

MONTPELIER, Vt.— Vermont lawmakers and child care advocates are celebrating the passage of a sweeping reform bill aimed at shoring up the state’s child care system.

Vermont Democratic leaders shared in a victory lap Tuesday after overriding the governor’s veto of the $125 million child care package. one of their key priorities for the session.

“Even if the governor says no, the people can say yes,” said Sen Phil Baruth, D-Chittenden County.

Advocates and parents say the measure will stabilize a system in crisis. “We’ve been commuting 55 minutes to the only child care facility that was able to offer us a spot after being on the waitlist for nearly two years,” said Nikki Tetrault, a Burlington mother.

It’s a challenging economic cycle — low staff wages create staff shortages that, in turn, create shortages in child care slots and programs for families. The plan doubles the amount of financial assistance for families. It would allow a family of four making up to $172,000 to benefit from those expanded subsidies. Providers would see a 35% increase in reimbursements from the state.

A jumbo version of the bill was symbolically signed by kids on the Statehouse steps Wednesday.

These changes are going to roll out over time, so we’re going to see how that impacts capacity and quality and we may need to tweak things over time,” said DCF Deputy Commissioner Janet McLaughlin. She says the reforms will help create new child care centers over time but that it’s not yet clear how many. “Providing resources to help programs start and grow and then providing them a more sustainable rate to support their services on an ongoing basis. There’s no reason to believe that wouldn’t lead to new growth in the field and new programs in the field.”

Governor Phil Scott vetoed the bill over its reliance on a 0.44% payroll tax, a quarter of it from employees and the rest from employers. Those earning $15 an hour — or $1,200 bi-weekly — would have $1.32 taken out of their paycheck.

Lawmakers say the reform’s aim is to stabilize the system so both parents can work and contribute to the economy. “And recognizing the economics in terms of workforce stability — the benefit that has and the ability for families to keep employment,” said Sen. Jane Kitchel, D-Caledonia County.

But leaders with the group Let’s Grow Kids say their work is not done and that the end goal is complying with a state law passed several years ago that no family should pay more than 10% of their income on child care. “We want a high-quality affordable system of care that works for Vermont,” said the group’s Aly Richards.

The bill also creates a study committee looking at the feasibility of bringing three and four-year-olds away from the private child care industry and into a universal government-funded system.

This article was written by Calvin Cutler, and was originally published by WCAX3 on June 21, 2023.

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