CONTRIBUTORS

Don’t neglect tomorrow’s work force

Posted April 10, 2012, at 3:37 p.m.

While in quality child care today, a lot of tomorrow’s work force will spend the day singing, painting, solving problems and learning. The Maine Development Foundation and Maine State Chamber of Commerce’s recent report in the series “Making Maine Work: Critical Investments for the Maine Economy” highlights the economic benefits of early childhood investment.

In developing this series of reports, The Maine Development Foundation surveyed 1,000 business leaders in order to identify key supports and barriers to economic investment in Maine. Not surprisingly, they told us that a loyal and skilled work force is one of the best indicators of a healthy economy.

For many in Maine, access to quality, affordable child care is a critical component to becoming and remaining a valuable worker. Child care is often a huge barrier for low-wage workers. According to 2010 U.S Census data, 65 percent of children aged 5 and younger live in households in which the parents are all working.

Quality, affordable child care means that children are healthy, safe and developing skills that are the building blocks for all future learning. It means kids are thriving and parents can work without worrying about the well-being of their children. It also means that employers benefit from a more productive workplace. Fortunately, the Child Care Development Fund brings reliable, affordable child care within reach for low-income families.

The program is currently supported by both state and federal funding, with participating low-income families contributing an average of 8 percent of their gross family income for child care. Without CCDF, up to 42 percent of the gross income of a single parent making minimum wage goes to infant child care expenses. Without this support, many will end up choosing between their jobs and substandard care that threatens the safety and health of their children.

Despite the critical support this program provides to working families across the state, funding at the state and federal level is in jeopardy. The Appropriations Committee in the Legislature

is currently considering a proposal to eliminate all state funding for CCDF in the 2013 budget. And, because state funds are used to draw down federal dollars, the elimination of this state funding will automatically trigger a reduction of federal matching funds as well.

If the proposed cuts are approved, approximately $11 million would be eliminated and the program’s capacity would be reduced by half. At least 1,600 Maine families who are not eligible for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families would lose the support they need to stay employed.

At the same time, federal CCDF funding is in danger. As a result of the Budget Control Act passed by Congress last summer, there will be large cuts in federal discretionary programs like child care assistance. Maine currently receives approximately $7 million in nondefense discretionary funds for CCDF and, if this funding level is decreased, more working families will be without the child care subsidies they need.

Ensuring that low-income working families have access to stable, reliable child care has been proven to be one of the most effective strategies for families to succeed. And we know that young children in families with steady employment and consistent child care arrangements have more positive school readiness outcomes as compared to their peers who do not have those same experiences.

Investments in early childhood produce great long-term dividends for our children and for our economy. Evidence-based early childhood programs promote a more productive work force and reduce the need for more expensive services later. We should be investing more — not less — in this proven approach so that parents remain employed; employers maintain a steady work force; and so that young children continue to laugh and learn and build a brighter future for Maine.

Laurie Lachance is president and CEO of the Maine Development Foundation and board chairwoman of Educare Central Maine. Ned McCann is vice president of the Maine Children’s Alliance.

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