Key child care reform bill moves forward in Vt. House

Published: Mar. 10, 2021 at 6:26 PM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont families with young children could get some support from the state under a bill moving through the Legislature. A key provision in the $13 million measure says families should spend no more than 10% percent of their income on child care.

“I think a lot of times families are stuck sacrificing whether or not a parent can work, because they can’t afford the child care,” said Melissa Tourville of Colchester.

“The constant turnover of staff because people, we’re finding jobs that paid better, and sometimes it was like working at the supermarket paid better,” said Misa Dikengil of Fayston.

These Vermont moms know what it’s like to choose between their child and their job, and what it’s like for providers to choose between the work they love and a liveable wage.

Supporters of H.171 say it seeks to address both problems. “It sets a goal. It sets what I’ve been calling a north star,” said House Human Services Committee Chair Rep. Ann Pugh, D-South Burlington. On Tuesday the bill cleared her committee 11 to 0 with bipartisan support.

Pugh says it allocates $5.5 million next year to the state’s child care program for low-income families, expanding who is eligible for benefits. That money will also allow the program to put a cap on how much families with multiple children have to pay for child care. Second, the bill provides $1.8 million for providers to pay off student loans and another $700,000 for scholarships. The goal is to not only to attract child care staff into the workforce but to help them make a career out of it.

Aly Richards, the CEO Let’s Grow Kids, has helped push the bill forward. “Affordability for families and compensation for early educators are the two pieces that really aren’t working, that are stopping this entire sustainable, high-quality, affordable childcare system from really working for Vermont, for the state, for our kids and our families,” she said.

The Department for Children and Families is also pushing for the proposal. “We will continue to work with the Legislature and community partners on this bill as it continues to move through the system,” said Miranda Gray, the department’s interim deputy commissioner.

Since two-thirds of House lawmakers are co-sponsoring the bill, advocates have high hopes it will pass without a problem.

Governor Phil Scott has not commented yet on the bill, which would push his budget over by about $3 million.

EARLY CHILDHOOD DAY AT THE LEGISLATURE

Wednesday, hundreds of early childhood advocates from across Vermont connected with legislators. It was the Early Childhood Day at the Legislature. But rather than roaming the halls of the state house, participants talked over video chat.

More than 250 parents, childhood professionals, and employers discussed a broad range of policies with lawmakers, from housing challenges to affordable childcare. The Vermont Early Childhood Advocacy Alliance co-hosts the annual event with Let’s Grow Kids. Executive Director Matt Levin says the pandemic has made these problems more apparent.

“A lot of the issues that our folks want to talk about are long-standing issues. We didn’t have enough affordable housing in the state, we had not had adequate support for early childhood and family mental health for years. Those aren’t new. The pandemic exacerbated the problems, but they’ve been around,” Levin said.

Levin says the day is also a chance for advocates to get the information they need to formulate good arguments for policy changes, then present those ideas to legislators. That way, the lawmakers know which policies are working well for real, struggling Vermonters and which need improvement.

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