By Joan Lenes
Whether we admit to it upfront or not, dollars do drive policy. Putting money behind ideas gives endorsement to policy decisions and direction, giving them the opportunity to succeed. An example of this is the current proposal by the governor about childcare and supporting it with a $17 million dollar increase in funding. I have always been a believer in “upfront” work, prevention, or getting ahead of the curve. From my involvement in the Department of Corrections and hearing about research on the subject, we know that spending money on education at the beginning of a child’s life instead of later in Corrections is about a one to seven dollar savings. We can look at this as an investment. Currently the House Human Services Committee is taking testimony on this childcare issue.
This is a brief report from that committee. Much has been written about the long-term impact of experiences and environment during the early childhood years when brain development is most rapid and dramatic. Research now shows a high correlation in a child’s access to early learning experiences and future success in school and in life. The availability and affordability of quality childcare that will promote this development is of great importance to Vermont families, to our economy, and to our society as a whole. Since working outside the home is a financial imperative for both parents in a majority of Vermont families, access to quality childcare is a critical issue. Testimony was heard about a study that found that availability of child care increases workforce participation of the parents, especially mothers, and that there is increased productivity from parents who can have the peace of mind, knowing that their children are safe and well cared for by high-quality child care providers.
The governor recognizes the importance of access to quality childcare in his call for increasing the state’s contribution to childcare for low-income families. His plan would put approximately $17 million into the child care subsidy program to do three things: 1) update eligibility standards to current federal poverty levels (FPL); 2) increase in the minimum benefit from 10 percent to 50 percent for those at 200 percent of FPL; 3) raise the rates paid to providers. This would be funded by re-allocating money from the Earned Income Tax credit (EITC).
An overview was given of the various state and federal government benefit programs available to eligible Vermonters, including the childcare subsidy and the EITC. A report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, D.C. concludes that the EITC encourages work, reduces poverty, provides a short-term safety net, and improves children’s school performance. Many families who got the EITC used it for expenses such as long-needed car repairs or payment of back rent and other overdue bills for fuel or electricity. Other benefit programs include 3Squares VT, General Assistance (GA), Fuel Assistance and Reach Up, to name a few.
The task before the House Human Services Committee, and later the entire Legislature, will be to analyze this and see if this funding source or another is the best way to do this or if it should be done at all.
Please stop by Bruegger’s Bagel any Tuesday morning. Kate Webb and I will be there from 7:30-8:30 am. You can also reach me at jlenes197@gmail or 999-9363. The toll free number in Montpelier is 800-322-5616.