Economic Recovery Starts with Affordable Child Care
More than a year after the pandemic began, working parents are struggling to re-enter a workforce that had already stretched them too thin. While searching for employment or working remotely, parents, and mothers in particular, were expected to care for their children and facilitate virtual learning. Now, as many return to offices and brick-and-mortar businesses, there is still a critical shortage of available, let alone affordable, child care.
The Maine Legislature and Governor Mills recently passed a law that would address this lack of child care options: LD 1712, "An Act To Support Children's Healthy Development and School Success." The bill, introduced by Senate President Troy Jackson, establishes the First 4 ME Early Care and Education Program under the Department of Health and Human Services to provide comprehensive, high-quality early child care and education services for at-risk children under the age of 6 (pre-kindergarten) and the children's parents by funding projects that integrate comprehensive resources and services with traditional child care center and family child care settings. Similar to Somerset County’s Elevate Maine program, the law also provides screenings for developmental delays, in the hopes of addressing them before students enter elementary school.
LD 1712 serves as a post-pandemic economic recovery measure in several ways:
It reduces the growing strain on unemployment: With First 4 ME, parents who would otherwise need to stay home to care for their children or work part-time will have the freedom to pursue full-time employment.
It combats income inequality: Maine’s lower-income families, even before the pandemic, struggled to afford child care. For those who couldn’t afford it and didn’t have another option for child care (such as a family member), many families have made the difficult decision to have one parent stay home with young children, widening the income gap. A statewide affordable child care program will drastically reduce this gap by giving both parents the option to pursue careers and increase the family’s income.
It improves communities: Providing two working parents with affordable child care frees additional income that can be spent on both necessities and non-essential items, ultimately funneling this money back into the community. The rising tide, as they say, lifts all boats.
LD 1712 is also an investment in Maine’s economic future. By providing quality, affordable education at a young age, we are giving all of Maine’s children the tools they need for a strong start in life. According to the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, experiences in the first few years of life can have lasting effects not just on physical cognitive development, but also on economic inequality. Programs like First 4 ME will help close the gap between children of working families and those of wealthy families and lift the economy upward as a whole as they mature.
Truly investing in Maine’s post-pandemic economic recovery requires us to think long-term. A quality statewide child care program accessible to all Maine families provides numerous benefits. It would not only get Mainers back to work during the current labor shortage, but it would set future generations up for success that benefits everyone. Mainers for Working Families applauds Senator Jackson, Governor Mills, and Maine lawmakers for prioritizing Maine’s working families and their children by passing LD 1712.