About a year ago, I wrote about paying for child care and how expensive and challenging it can be. Our family of four is lucky to have two incomes. We work really hard, but since one is from the non-profit field and the other is from self-employment (not big money-makers!), we feel fortunate that Vermont does offer benefits to help us stay afloat during this time in our life when we have to pay for child care. I am feeling especially grateful right now to hear the leaders of our state and country acknowledge the importance of the early years and voice their support for investments in young children and their families.
Governor Shumlin is a champion for children. His proposed budget focuses strongly on education, including investments in the care and education of our youngest Vermonters. He took a bold step and announced his idea to invest $17 million into Vermont’s Child Care Financial Assistance Program recently. This infusion of funds is intended to help multiple populations: the individuals who are providing the care, the parents who are struggling to afford it, and ultimately the broader economic community within our state.
Windham Child Care Association is in full support of this initiative. We are a community agency that serves all of the populations that would benefit from this investment. We support the families who are applying for child care financial assistance and helping them ultimately benefits employers who depend on a reliable and productive workforce.
In a nutshell, here’s what the $17 million would go toward (according to a Jan. 22 report published by the Department for Children and Families):
1. Updating reimbursement rates to participating child care programs from 2008 levels to 2010 levels, based on the Vermont Market Survey. Low rates of reimbursement weaken the system and create disincentives for expanding capacity and quality. An increase in rates of reimbursement means all of the regulated child care providers who are serving subsidized children would be paid more by DCF, thereby offering greater stability.
2. Updating income eligibility guidelines to from 2009 to 2013 Federal Poverty Levels. This means that nearly 5000 of the 6000 families accessing child care subsidies would have lower co-pays.
3. Increasing the amount of minimum assistance families receive from 10 percent to 50 percent.
These adjustments would also mean nearly 1,000 more Vermont families would benefit from the program.
One of the main goals of this investment is to restructure the system so that getting ahead in your career doesn’t mean staying put with your finances. According to the DCF report, "as an individual’s gross earnings increase from $20,000 to $40,000, the total resources available to them remains level. Benefits, especially the childcare subsidy, decline almost dollar for dollar, leaving the family no better off. This has proven to be a disincentive to working and getting ahead." With the proposed changes, the idea is that for every extra dollar a family earns, their overall resources available to them increases by 30 cents.
This concept rings true for many families I know. It’s easy to feel trapped between the advantage of the benefits and the need for economic advancement. I know parents who work full-time, yet rely on assistance to stay afloat. If they look forward and imagine making more money, they see their benefits decrease to a place where they are literally no better off (and maybe even seeing an overall decrease in resources available to them). What’s the incentive? I believe the governor’s intention is to help motivate those families to get ahead. It actually gives them the small boost they need to get ahead and start saving for their children.
While there’s been a great deal of support for this investment, there’s also been a great deal of conflict around where the proposed the money comes from: the Earned Income Tax Credit. There was immediate backlash following the governor’s inaugural address where he made this announcement, and rightfully so, as many low-income Vermont’s rely on this credit as it is. The DCF report does a good job of explaining the rationale for choosing that particular funding source. I found it worthwhile to read the report in order to get a better understanding of the details. You can view it on our website: www.windhamchildcare.org.
Investing so much in our child care system is truly a long-term investment. It’s ambitious. It’s going to be a challenge for our legislators to work this one out. But it’s also incredibly inspiring. For me, regardless of whether I agree with the whole package or not, I’m just happy that it’s on the table. It’s the largest infusion of funds into Vermont’s child care system in many years. I’m proud of our state government and of being a Vermonter. We’re leading the way for the leadership of tomorrow.
Sarah DiNicola is the Communications & Events Coordinator at Windham Child Care Association, and the mother of two young children, Sylvia, age 3, and Nina, age 5, who both spend time in a local child care program. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-5332 ext. 310.