MONTPELIER, Vt. (WFFF) — Lawmakers are celebrating the Senate’s passage of a House bill that aims to make child care more affordable for working families.
H171 proposes to expand eligibility for the Child Care Financial Assistance Program, provide scholarships for early childhood educators and create a mechanism to evaluate the industry’s staffing needs.
“We achieved something very exciting today—a broad agreement that high quality, affordable child care is essential,” said Sen. Becca Balint.
As three out of five Vermont children don’t have access to child care, Balint said it’s a major child care bill. Baltin says families will often pay 30% of their income, even with financial assistance. She says that for many, that feels like an additional mortgage payment. But Bill H.171 will attempt to fix that.
“I was paying so much for childcare, it almost didn’t even make it worth it,” said registered nurse Ali Koonz.
Koonz is a single mother of two small children in Windham county. When the pandemic hit, her 12-hour shifts as an ER nurse—coupled with limited access to day care—made her life difficult. “I ended up working fewer hours, making less money, so that I could afford the child care I did need,” she said.
To accommodate her work schedule, Koonz explained putting her child through child during the day and paying for an additional babysitter at night. But on Friday, the Senate unanimously approved $12.7 million dollars to ensure Vermont families have the ability to properly work and care for their children.
“We know that when parents can’t find or afford childcare, businesses lose out, our communities loses out, our economy loses out and we heard Vermonters when they told us that they needed help with childcare,” said Balint.
Vermont Creamery President Adeline Druart says her business felt the pain of the child care crisis. Nearly 10% of her employees struggled to come into work. “Some parents were not able to come to work because schools were closed, because child care centers were closed, so we found ourselves in a situation where we had to adjust our production schedule, adjust our volume to give parents the flexibility they needed,” she said.
The bill aims to reduce family co-pays, make more families eligible for financial aid, support child care providers, and limit costs to no more than 10% of one’s annual income. “If we want to make it possible for young families to stay here in Vermont, we have to figure out our child care crisis,” said Balint.
Koonz described her child care costs as paying for two college tuitions. She says that can be anywhere between $15,000 to $30,000. “I would love to buy a house and I can’t, I can’t afford it. I have two degrees and a great job and great employer. I can’t afford to buy a house because so much money goes out every month,” she said.
But she also says the bill will guide the state in the right direction. “It’s a really hopeful moment. It makes me feel little emotional,” said Koonz. “Things like this do sort of reinforce that we care about each other and as a community care about each other and are making changes that need to be made.”
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The bill also works to increase funding for scholarships and loan repayment programs for early childhood educators. It now moves on to the House.