Child care, paid family leave bills face fiscal cliff at Vt. Statehouse

Published: Mar. 16, 2023 at 6:10 PM EDT|Updated: Mar. 17, 2023 at 11:07 AM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Two top priorities for Democrats in the Vermont Legislature this session face headwinds. Lawmakers in both chambers are working on bills that would address the child care crisis and universal paid family leave, but some question whether it will be too costly to get both across the finish line.

Ask just about any parent in Vermont and they’ll tell you finding child care is a Herculean task.

“Many programs have waitlists that are years long,” said Allison Lazarz, a South Burlington parent who is dealing with sticker shock after a recently announced price hike at Heartworks, her private preschool. She pays $1,400 a month right and will soon pay almost $1,800. “We’ve seen some increases year-over-year but nothing like this.”

“It’s all about the funding resources, not about the regulations,” said Aly Richards with the advocacy group Let’s Grow Kids, which has been pushing lawmakers to make major investments, including subsidies for parents and providers. “If you dig deep into the child care system and the business model, the problem has always been money.”

Hours away from the key legislative crossover deadline, Senate lawmakers are ironing out a sweeping child care bill that would include some of those subsidies. but strip out a provision for universal pre-k for four-year-olds for further study. Instead. a new proposal has been added to give three months of paid leave for one parent to stay home with new children.

Senator Jane Kitchel, D-Caledonia County, says that parental care is more cost-effective than daycare. “The Senate has been very clear -- child care has been one of our top priorities,” she said.

Legislative economists are still crunching the numbers, but the proposal could faces competing interests with Demorcat’s other big priority -- a universal paid family and medical leave bill that is moving through the House.

“I think we can make both work for Vermont families because they need it from us,” said Rep. Emilie Kornheiser, D-Brattleboro, whose $117 million bill has been years in the works and would give parents and people caring for sick loved ones up to 12-weeks of paid leave. “People talk about conservation and housing being oppositional forces in so many states, but here in Vermont we have been able to bring them together as part of the Housing and Conservation Board.”

The diverging strategies of House and Senate lawmakers in tackling core workforce issues come as state economists have warned about state surpluses coming to an end. “The amount of revenue needed to do both of these initiatives simultaneously is more than will be achievable,” Sen. Kitchel said.

Republican Governor Phil Scott has already pitched his own proposals for paid family leave and child care but the Democratic majority at the Statehouse has not taken them up yet.

Lawmakers are expected to vote the child care bill out of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee Friday and it faces a possible floor vote as early as next week.

Related Stories:

Could Burlington early learning initiative help solve Vt. child care crisis?

Providers and parents looking for fix in Vt. child care system

Vt. Democrats admit child care proposal ‘daunting’

Report: fully funded Vt. child care carries $645M price tag

Vt. House speaker to focus on child care next session

New housing aims to address health care staffing crisis

Chronic staffing problems stress Vermont’s child care centers — and the families they serve

New funding available for child care worker training

Efforts underway to ease Vermont’s child care crunch

Are efforts to make child care in Vermont more affordable paying off?

Vt. child care advocates make push for major investments