By KATIE CHAPA
GEORGIA — A new bill aimed at tackling the childcare crisis, could expand the state’s childcare assistance program, while providing student loan and tax support for educators in the field.
House Bill 194 was introduced in the Vermont statehouse on February 8, and has the support of 70 cosponsors including Georgia’s representative, Carl Rosenquist.
The legislation addresses the crisis in three different ways with a provision to increase family affordability, support childcare providers and incentivize employers to provide childcare assistance to employees.
If passed, the bill would increase the number of families who are eligible for childcare assistance, by raising the eligibility cap to 350 percent of the federal poverty level. It currently stands at 300 percent.
“This program has been underfunded for decades now. It’s not supporting nearly enough families and the families that are eligible are not receiving enough support,” Sarah Kenney, Senior Director of Policy at Let’s Grow Kids, said. “This year we’ve actually seen underutilization in the program because the level of support offered is still not enough for families to afford childcare, and even if they can, they can’t find it.”
Kenney hopes this increase will continue every year, until every family in need has access to no less than 25 percent assistance from the state.
The bill would also provide assistance to childcare providers in the field. According to Kenney, the median wage for these workers is $12.71, which does not qualify as a livable wage.
“As we work towards the long term progress of raising these wages, in the short term, we know that one of the biggest obstacles for early educators is paying back student debt,” Kenney said.
That’s why, Kenney says, the bill includes a student loan repayment support program. If passed, the legislation would provide repayment to educators that finish their degree and then go and work in the field. The bill would also provide scholarships for early educators interested in pursuing a degree or higher credentials.
The third piece of the legislation includes supports for businesses and their employees. H.B. 194 would establish a tax credit to companies who provide scholarships for workers to afford childcare, or who make direct donations to childcare.
“This bill is going to have a bit of a price tag to it, it’s actually a big price tag. But we know that in order to make change on behalf of families and children, we need to be investing in this issue,” Kenney told a group of community members at an event held by Let’s Grow Kids in Georgia Monday night.
Childcare providers, local legislators of Franklin and Grand Isle counties and concerned community members gathered at Georgia’s Next Generation to show their support for H.B. 194. The event gave concerned constituents a chance to talk to their representatives and voice their own personal hardships with the childcare crisis.
Georgia resident, Emily Grimes, was one of these voices.
Grimes has an 8-year-old and a 4-year-old son. The busy mother of two is also a preschool teacher at Essex Elementary School. She first became concerned with the lack of affordable high quality childcare when she became pregnant with her first child.
“My husband and I were just starting out in our careers, and we couldn’t afford to stay home with our son for more than 8-weeks. So we had to take our little guy and find someone to take care of him for 40 hours a week,” Grimes said.
Luckily, the young couple found an older woman who was a perfect fit. Nicknamed Mi-Mi, she ended up becoming almost like an extension of the family, Grimes said.
“But it stretched our budget. Even giving her everything we could give, we were not paying her what she deserved.” Grimes said.
The young couple was paying the woman $4 an hour, with no time off and no included benefits.
“To this day it’s hard for me to understand how childcare can be such a financial burden for families, and yet we can’t pay our providers nearly what they deserve,” Grimes said.
Between her two boys, Grimes has gone through six different childcare payments. At times, she says, the couple’s childcare budget is stretched to be almost as much as their house mortgage.
Grimes, herself, working in the field, knows first hand the struggle between paying for childcare and earning the money deserved for childcare. That’s why she’s become a volunteer with Let’s Grow Kids, and is urging legislators to pass H.B. 194.
Discussion of the bill begins this week within the House Human Services committee. Kenney says the bill will likely be taken up in the next week or two. In the mean time, Kenney along with other childcare supporters are urging community members passionate about this issue to speak up.
“It’s really important for us to be talking to our legislators about how critically important this issue is, and urge their support for this bill,” Kenney said. “Let’s find the resources the state is going to need to be able to do this.”