By REP. MARYBETH REDMOND
This week, the House Human Services Committee which I serve on approved an $8.46 million bill that will make child care more available and affordable for Vermont families struggling to secure slots for their littlest ones. The legislation, which goes to the full House next for consideration, also contains $1 million in scholarships and student loan repayment assistance for early learning professionals working in programs that are both center- and home-based.
After receiving weeks of testimony from parents, child care providers and business owners, advocates, and the state’s own Child Development Division, it’s clear that accessible, high-quality child care and early learning are critical investments in the healthy brain development of children ages 0-5, as well as a long-term strategy for putting Vermont parents to work and growing the state’s economy.
If you’re not aware of the current child care crisis, here are two data points that magnify the extent of the problem in the Green Mountain State:
• More than 50 percent of infants and toddlers requiring child care don’t have access to any regulated programs; and nearly 80 percent don’t have access to high-quality programs.
• Middle-class families are spending up to 40 percent of their household income on child care ($10-$15,000 per child per year for full-time care).
One owner of a South Burlington child care business serving 700 children over 25 years confirmed the dire situation, saying that her current waiting list has expanded to 250 requests.
The Human Services Committee’s “Child Care and Early Learning Bill,” as it is called, adjusts the market rates and benefits for the Child Care Financial Assistance Program according to a revised sliding scale to ensure that families whose gross income is up to 100 percent of current federal poverty guidelines receive 100 percent assistance. The new eligibility guidelines expand financial subsidy to a wider swath of middle-income families too.
In addition, the legislation seeks to retain child care providers working in the field, many of whom struggle to earn livable wages while paying off sizable college loans. The bill provides $2,000 per year in loan payment assistance for a full year of service; and offers scholarships to develop the skills and credentials of workers on the early childhood career path.
I am proud of this bill, which consists of weeks of deliberation among Republicans and Democrats, an Independent and Progressive, all serving together on the House Human Services Committee. We approved this bill unanimously, knowing that to attract more young people to live in our state, they must have access to affordable, high–quality child care. Likewise, our economy will thrive when employers can rely on a stable, robust workforce.
Please reach out to me if you have ideas or concerns: firstname.lastname@example.org. I am ever-grateful to be your ambassador in the State House.