Miranda Gray: A plan to support children, families and caregivers

This commentary is from Miranda Gray, Deputy Commissioner of Child Development Division within the Department of Vermont for Children and Families.

The Covid-19 pandemic has forced many caregivers, especially women, to leave work due to a lack of regular child care. To compound the problem, women – many of whom are young mothers – make up roughly 95% of child care providers nationwide.

This pandemic has brought to light how essential child care is to the proper functioning of our economy. I work with some of the brightest and hardest working people who are parents, who have struggled to care for their young children over the past two years. As a mother myself, I juggled work while helping my child with homework when our schools were both remote and hybrid.

Governor Scott’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2023, which begins July 1, aims to ease Vermont’s child care crisis by retaining current staff, hiring new staff and making the cost of more affordable child care for families. This can be done by increasing payments to current providers, offering bursaries and student loan repayments to those looking to work in child care, and giving tax credits to caregivers and families.

Childcare programs were among the first businesses to reopen — and many never even closed — so they could care for the children of essential workers. And, when schools couldn’t fully reopen, child care centers and after-school programs provided space for children to go. I am extremely 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 grow, while their parents and caregivers went to work.

Fortunately, the state received millions of federal dollars to help support childcare and afterschool programs during the pandemic. These funds have been going to programs since April 2021 and will continue through September 2024. Among other things, the money is going towards staff salaries, Covid supplies and job training. If you are a regulated childcare provider and would like information about this support, please email us at [email protected]

Additionally, last year the Legislature passed a bill creating a Student Loan Repayment Program and a Potential Scholarship Program, to support those already working in this field and entice new educators to enter. in the field. Both programs will ease the burden of student debt for those working in child care. Both grant programs will be operational this spring.

However, more is needed, and the Scott administration is proposing several efforts that we hope the Legislative Assembly will approve.

The governor’s budget proposal includes $12 million to increase payments to child care providers, including about $5 million to expand access to care for low- and middle-income families. The proposal also includes $7 million to expand the network of after-school and summer programs for school-aged children. As recently as last year, thanks to the Summer Matters initiative, we were able to serve more than 12,000 children.

The Scott administration is also proposing to invest more in vocational and technical training to recruit new people seeking careers in educating and caring for our youngest Vermonters. We are also restarting the Child Development Associate program in our Career and Technical Centers. Investing in this type of work readiness benefits everyone, whether you are a parent, caretaker, or business owner who needs on-hand staff to keep your operations running smoothly.

To provide relief to families with children, the budget expands the child care and dependent care tax credit and makes it fully refundable. This means that if the credit is more than you owe in taxes, you will get money back. The budget also includes a $1,000 refundable tax credit for all regulated child care workers who provide private preschool or child care. This credit will help recruit and retain other 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 to work, and support Vermont’s economy.

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