The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many caregivers, and especially women, to leave the workforce due to a lack of consistent child care. Compounding the problem, women, many of whom are young mothers, make up roughly 95% of the country's childcare providers.
This pandemic has shown a light on how critical child care is to making our economy run. I work with some of the brightest, hardest-working people, who are parents struggling to care for their young children over the past couple of years. As a mother myself, I’ve juggled work while helping my child with schoolwork while our schools were in both remote and hybrid status.
Governor Scott’s 2023 proposed budget seeks to ease the child care crisis in Vermont by retaining current staff, recruiting new staff, and making the cost of child care more affordable for families. This can be done by increasing payments to current providers, offering scholarships and student loan repayment for those seeking to work in childcare, and providing tax credits to both caregivers and families.
Child care programs were some of the first businesses to reopen – and many never even closed – so they could care for the children of essential workers. And, when schools were not able to fully re-open, child care and afterschool programs provided a space for children to go. I am incredibly grateful to these programs and their staff for the stability they provided to our youngest Vermonters who needed a safe place to learn, play, and thrive, while their parents and caretakers went to work.
Fortunately, the state has received millions of federal dollars to help support child care and afterschool programs during the pandemic. These funds have been going to the programs since last April 2021 and will continue through September 2024. Among other things, it pays for staff wages, COVID supplies, and professional training. If you are a regulated child care provider and want information about this assistance, please email us at AHS.DCFARPAGrant@vermont.gov.
Additionally, last year, the Legislature passed a bill creating a student loan repayment program and a prospective student scholarship program, to support those already working in this field and incentivize new educators to enter the field. Both programs will ease the burden of student loan debt for those in the child care field. These two grant programs will be up and operating this spring.
However, further measures are needed, and the Scott Administration is proposing several efforts that we hope the Legislature will approve.
The Governor’s budget proposal includes $12 million dollars to increase payments to child care providers, including approximately $5 million to broaden access to care for low- and middle-income families. The proposal also includes $7 million to expand the network of afterschool and summer programs for school-aged children. Just last year, through the Summer Matters initiative, we were able to serve over 12,000 children.
The Scott Administration also proposes investing more into Career and Technical Education (CTE) to recruit new people looking for a career educating and caring for our youngest Vermonters. We are also restarting the Child Development Associate (CDA) program at our CTE centers. Investing in this type of work readiness benefits everyone, whether you are a parent, a caretaker, or a business owner who needs staff available for your operations to run smoothly.
To provide relief for families with children, the budget expands the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit and makes it fully refundable. That means, if the credit is more than you owe in taxes, you would get money back. The budget also includes a $1,000-dollar refundable income tax credit for all regulated child care workers who provide private pre-K or child care services. This credit will help recruit and retain additional child care workers.
If these initiatives are supported by the Legislature, this multi-pronged approach will help expand child care, bring women and other caregivers back into the workforce, and support Vermont’s economy.
Miranda Gray is the Deputy Commissioner of the Child Development Division within the Vermont Department of Children and Families.