AUGUSTA — On Tuesday, Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, spoke about the need to improve access to quality, affordable child care and support providers in a call with the White House and state legislative leaders from across the country. The White House organized the State Legislative Convening on Child Care Access and Affordability to highlight state legislative efforts to expand child care affordability and access and connect state lawmakers in order to share strategies, get ideas and build a cohort of child care champions.
“Maine’s child care system isn’t working for anyone – parents, providers or small businesses. There simply isn’t enough quality, affordable child care in the state. The child care providers that are open can’t afford to do this work and are struggling to hire workers for the same reason. We must do better,” said President Jackson. “But this is not just a Maine issue. Yesterday, I had joined the White House and other state leaders to talk about the work we are doing in Maine, to improve access to care and support the professionals caring for our kids. I’m proud of the progress we’ve made but we cannot let up now.”
Over the past two years, President Jackson has spearheaded a number of efforts to make child care more accessible and financially feasible for both parents and providers.
In 2021, President Jackson introduced the law establishing the First 4 ME Pilot Program. This pilot program seeks to expand access to quality affordable child care by investing in providers and community stakeholders to open up slots in existing child care programs. The program was modeled after a successful community partnership in Skowhegan. The Department of Health and Human Services began accepting applications for the pilot program in February.
“The real issue is wages. Child care workers aren’t treated or compensated like the professionals they are, which makes it hard to stay in this industry without raising the cost of care on working families,” said President Jackson. “This session, I’m working on a proposal with a coalition of parents, providers and advocates that builds on our work last year to raise wages while also expanding eligibility for the child care subsidy program. If we are serious about making our child system work, child care workers, providers and parents must be heard.”
Last year, President Jackson secured funding for an initiative he cosponsored with the Hon. Ryan Fecteau to provide monthly $200 stipends for direct early care and education workers, continuing the stipends funded through the federal American Rescue Plan Act.
In recent years, President Jackson has supported funding for preschool expansion grants, child care infrastructure grants and the creation or expansion of early childhood education programs at career and technical education centers.
In Maine, 70 percent of all Maine children under the age of six live in families with all available parents in the workforce. These families are likely to need access to quality, affordable child care. More than one in five Maine children live in what’s considered a child care desert. The number is higher in rural parts of the state. This means for every three kids in need of child care, there’s only one available slot.
Over the past decade, the number of licensed child care providers in Maine has declined dramatically. There are 344 fewer licensed providers caring for children today than in 2013. In a survey of licensed child care providers, “operating at a deficit” was named a top challenge for the second year in a row by Maine’s family child care providers and child care centers.