Child care touted as critical infrastructure issue

By: - April 21, 2021 1:00 am

Members of a legislative caucus on children’s issues marked child care as a necessity for Ohio’s economy, and said the state needs to expand the help families get.

The bipartisan Ohio Legislative Children’s Caucus met with organizations and advocates this week to talk about the state of Ohio’s child care system, and how state leaders can improve it.

“I would argue that few issues are more important to our children, our work force…and our economy than child care,” said state Rep. Allison Russo, D-Upper Arlington, during the caucus meeting.

The state has a public funded program called Step Up to Quality, which sets standards for child care facilities, and advocates said the program should be a model for the country, but the poverty level eligibility for child care assistance in the state should be expanded to help more Ohioans.

“Ohio is one of the most difficult states to be eligible for child care assistance,” said Cynthia Rees, one of the state directors for the national non-profit Council for a Strong America.

Rees was one of a few participants in the caucus meeting that said an increase in the eligibility for child care assistance, from 130% to 150% of the federal poverty level.

As of 2020, the income eligibility standards for state child care assistance place the maximum income limit for an eligible family of four at $2,839 per month, according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

Kimberly Tice, executive director of the Ohio Association for the Education of Young Children, said she has heard of child care workers turning down raises to preserve their eligibility for assistance with their own children, because the raise would not account for the costs of child care.

Families across the state are dealing with costs of child care and trying to keep working which caring for their children, but the problem is not lost on child care workers themselves.

“Our system is underfunded and it is broken,” Tice said. “That’s really the U.S. early care and education system in a nutshell.”

Tice said a study of Central Ohio facilities done by the Ohio AEYC said 46% of providers are losing more than $5,000 per month because of a loss of revenue due to the pandemic. Some of the loss can be attributed to women not returning to the workforce, but much of it can also be attributed to families’ inability to afford child care with a loss of income.

Enrollment at child care facilities is rising, but still depressed at 57% of provider capacity, according to the study, and the AEYC found staff shortages at one-third of Central Ohio child care centers.

The losses in revenue for child care providers hit a population that are struggling financially already, with poverty rates for child care workers nearly eight times higher than for K-8 teachers, according to Tice.

Legislators and advocates alike pushed for legislation that would expand the federal poverty limits in Ohio, to bring more people into the funding stream and allow more children to have child care opportunities.

A bipartisan bill to bring up those eligibility numbers is currently sitting in the House Families, Aging and Human Services Committee, where dozens of groups and individuals submitted testimony in support of the bill.

House Bill 145 would bring the publicly funded child care assistance eligibility to 200% of the federal poverty level, which supporters say would incentivize working families who could meet basic needs while also getting their children needed care.

“Today, too many families with young children are making a choice between spending a significant portion of their income on child care, finding a cheaper, but potentially lower-quality or unsafe care option, or leaving the workforce altogether to become a full-time caregiver,” Lynanne Guterrez, assistant director of early education advocacy group Groundwork Ohio, told the committee.

In both the committee and the caucus meeting, supporters of an expanded eligibility level said businesses and Ohio’s economy would benefit from lessening the burden of finding child care.

Groundwork Ohio estimated that nationally, businesses lose $12.7 billion because of “their employee’s child care challenges.”

The legislative caucus heard arguments for a partnership with businesses as a way forward for child care help in the state.

“In my mind, there’s nothing more important than the investment in our children,” said state Sen. Hearcel Craig, D-Columbus.

The caucus pledged to reach out to the GOP-led Business First Caucus, which focuses on small businesses, regulatory reform and workforce development, to see how the two caucuses could work to incentivize child care help by local businesses.

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Susan Tebben
Susan Tebben

Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.

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