Maine Compass: Increased investment in child care must be part of Congress’ year-end budget deal


As we turn the page on post-election season and focus on year-end, Congress has a short window of time to make major decisions on unfinished business. A key component must be expanding support for our fragile child care industry by investing additional resources in the Federal Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG).

As employers, we know that high-quality child care is essential to keep parents working now and to prepare children for tomorrow’s job market. Simply put, businesses need daycares to keep jobs and consumers in Maine.

The lack of quality child care is a big concern and, for too many people, a barrier to work. According to ReadyNation report released earlier this year, child care challenges result in an annual cost of $57 billion in lost earnings, productivity and revenue. The estimate for Maine is $180 million a year in losses from the child care crisis for infants and toddlers alone. These loss estimates were generated before the pandemic. Since then it has probably gotten worse.

At the same time, childcare services are scarcer. In 2021, ReadyNation reported that Maine had lost 27.5% of our family caregivers in the years leading up to the pandemic, which contributed to our lack of child care in rural Maine.

Since the pandemic, many child care programs have closed permanently. Some new ones have opened, and statewide we have about 90% of the volume of child care programs that we had before the pandemic. But the vast majority of programs do not work at full capacity. Many are operating at 50-70% capacity. This is mainly due to the lack of staff.

As business owners, we know we need to invest in our workers to get a quality product. To solve the child care crisis, we also need to invest in the essential child care workforce.

The shortage of child care workers is happening because in Maine, child care workers are paid just $26,810, barely above the federal poverty level.

But we cannot solve these problems by asking working parents to pay more. In Maine, less than 1 in 7 eligible children gets a federal child care subsidy. Child care costs Maine families $10,866 per child per year. This is the highest cost for many families. In reality, child care prices are rising much faster than groceries and gas.

These are the root causes of Maine’s child care crisis: lack of access and low labor wages.

At the same time, research shows that quality early learning has a high return on investment: it reduces child abuse and prepares children for school, thereby reducing the costs of special education, dropouts, welfare and crime. Quality child care programs help lay the foundation for many skills needed for 21st century jobs, including cognitive and character skills, and they contribute to academic success.

Congress needs to invest more resources now and create the conditions for states to adopt the policies and practices that allow our children to thrive.

The one-time money or emergency money provided by the federal government to support child care during the worst of the pandemic was important in stabilizing the child care sector. But emergency funding cannot substitute for strict standards of competitive wages for skilled child care workers and professional development, training and career paths for child care workers. in every community in Maine.

By maintaining and steadily increasing the annual stipend, Congress can enable Maine and other states to prioritize child care provider reimbursement rates that allow providers to recruit and retain skilled workers, and to help create a system of quality providers that improves access to affordable, quality child care. when working parents need it.

This is why it is essential to constantly increase federal investments in child care.

This spring, Senator Susan Collins urged colleagues to double child care funding over five years. Now as a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, Senator Collins will work hard to craft the year-end federal budget package. We ask him to follow through on his commitment with a substantial down payment: increased investment in the Child Care Development Block Grant in the year-end budget and in future years.

Jim Clair is CEO of Clair Group of Companies and Dana Connors is President of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce. Both are members of ReadyNationa group of business leaders from Maine and across the country advocating for investments in children and youth to strengthen our current and future workforce and increase economic competitiveness.

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