Senate Republicans unveil efforts to improve parents’ access to affordable child care

Sen. Trey Stewart, R-Aroostook, talks about constituents in Houlton who spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to open a new child care center only to find that they needed to spend half a million more just to comply with Maine’s complex and burdensome set of regulations over the child care industry. (Senate Republican Office/Mike Fern)

AUGUSTA – During a press briefing on Tuesday, Senate Republicans discussed the challenge that working parents in Maine are having in accessing affordable child care. Over the last 15 years, Maine’s family child care industry has been decimated by unworkable regulations, tight labor markets and COVID-19.

The state has lost roughly 25% of all providers since 2008. Rural areas such as Washington, Oxford and Androscoggin counties have each lost at least 30% of all providers over that time, while Waldo, York, Lincoln, Knox and Hancock have lost more than half since 2008.

While child care capacity in Maine has grown slightly compared to February 2020, these slots are concentrated in fewer providers and within more expensive center-based care. Instead of a broader array of options, the market has consolidated into fewer, larger firms that can withstand the regulatory burden imposed by the state.

According to Sen. James Libby, the relationship between quality child care and a healthy workforce is inseparable since it contributes to higher productivity and wages. He said access to child care for working parents contributes directly to a growing economy.

“It improves GDP. It improves tax collection. It improves pretty much everything – it’s an investment in us,” he said at the briefing. “It’s a great way to combat poverty.”

The Cumberland County Republican said studies have shown that parents in several of his towns have the greatest difficulty in finding child care. He also cited the high costs parents must endure to have child care if they can find it at all.

“The average infant care cost is over $14,000 a year. That is actually more than the average cost of public college tuition in Maine,” Libby said. “In terms of an immediate need, which is more important?”

Sen. Lisa Keim, R-Oxford, said the lack of child care has hit rural areas disproportionately, especially for new or expecting parents who work and must call a child care provider months in advance to try to get on a waiting list.

“When my legislative aide found out she was pregnant, the first call she made was to her child care center because she knows how long the wait is and she wanted to make sure she had care so she could stay working,” Keim said. “This need is greater in rural areas.”

Holding up a thick stack of paper, she said the booklet contained all of the policies a family child care provider must adhere to for licensing in Maine. She dismissed comments made during a recent committee hearing that getting licensed in Maine was simple.

“This is the guidebook. This is the rules that you have to follow in order to get licensed to watch as many as three children in your home,” she said. “It’s 57 pages and one of the more ridiculous things is that you have to be lifeguard certified if you have even an inch of standing water anywhere on your property or in your house.”

Keim said what the state has effectively done is increased costs and regulations so much for family-care providers that it has forced providers out of the industry. That has steadily eroded capacity in rural areas for over a decade and only made worse during the pandemic.

“Maine is an outlier in the way that we are handling child care in our state,” she said. “I think that the barriers to entering into child care has been minimized wrongfully when you look at this stack of paper.”

For Sen. Marianne Moore, who serves on the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, the bill she submitted promises to bring some comprehensive reform to several key areas that will increase access to affordable child care. In addition to increasing subsidies to the 75th percentile of local market rates, which can vary widely from Portland and Calais to Fort Kent, her bill will also increase the level of children who can be supervised without having to obtain a state license.

“Allowing a neighborhood babysitter to watch four children without becoming a licensed provider is truly the least the state can do to support the availability of child care,” she said. “Maine is in the minority of states that require family care licensure for those watching under four children.”

Moore said the final part of her bill establishes an independent board to handle disputes between child care providers or applicants and the Department of Health and Human Services. The board would also hear appeals of license or certification suspensions or revocations, denials of applications, disputes between facilities and the department concerning rule compliance, and denials of alternative compliance requests.

“This gives the providers recourse who believe the department or licensing board is acting unfairly against their facility,” she said.

One comment

  1. That’s great but when are Republicans going stop the federal government from the Chem trails that are cris crossing the sky ip on aroostook County . We will all need medical intervention


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