At a time of budget crisis, funding for child care must be a priority

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Children play outside at a family child care program in Hamden.

On February 21, parents and advocates gathered at the capitol to testify to the legislature on the importance of Care4Kids, Connecticut’s child care subsidy program, which provides critical assistance to help low-income working parents pay for child care. Since August, new parents can no longer qualify for support, unless they receive TANF dollars; under Gov. Dannel Malloy’s proposed budget, Care4Kids would remain closed for the next two years, cutting off access to child care for thousands of Connecticut families. This would damage our state’s economy and cost far more than it would save.

At All Our Kin, we train and support a network of over 400 family child care providers, who provide care to roughly 2,400 children and families in Connecticut. In December, we wrote about what happens when working parents cannot pay for child care. Since then, we have seen an even greater impact. As a result of closing Care4Kids enrollment, many of our state’s youngest children are losing access to quality early care and education opportunities, child care providers are struggling to keep their doors open, and parents are being forced to decline job opportunities or reduce working hours, This is bad news for Connecticut’s economy.

Child care has substantial economic impacts. A study from the University of Connecticut’s Center for Economic Analysis measured the economic benefits of All Our Kin’s work helping create family child care businesses. The effects were exponential: providers succeeded as business owners, while enabling parents to enter and remain in the workforce. As a result, over the course of three years, the program generated $15.2 million in macroeconomic benefits, as well as $18.4 million in additional tax revenue. Connecticut cannot afford to lose these millions of dollars by making cuts to Care4Kids.

We recently circulated a survey to our network to collect data on the impact of Care4Kids eligibility cuts. Of the 213 child care providers who completed our survey, 40% have recently had to cut back on household expenses as a result of lower enrollment in their programs. Reduced expenditures translate to fewer dollars spent on local businesses. Our survey also revealed that 16 percent of providers have had to let go of a licensed assistant or substitute. Cuts to Care4Kids translate into lost jobs.

Some providers shared that as they struggle to make ends meet in the child care field, they have had to apply for SNAP benefits, Medicaid, and energy assistance. If they lose their businesses, we will see increased need for state benefits. This goes for parents as well. According to a report from Childcare Aware of America, a Connecticut family with two children can spend upwards of $25,000 per year on child care. Without Care4Kids, paying for child care is not feasible for many parents. If Care4Kids remains closed, we will see many more parents unable to participate in the workforce. Without an income, many will need to apply for state benefits, which ironically, may make them eligible for Care4Kids, since only current recipients of TANF are still eligible. Connecticut will end up paying twice over.

But it’s not just the workforce of today that’s at stake in the fight to save Care4Kids. It’s the workforce of tomorrow as well. We know that children’s brains are literally built in the first few years of life. Research by Nobel Prize winning University of Chicago Economics Professor James Heckman shows that investing in early childhood—even during a budget crisis—reduces social costs and promotes economic growth because children are better prepared to graduate high school and enter the workforce. By cutting Care4Kids today, we risk Connecticut’s tomorrow.

Our survey respondents are from 80 different zip codes. They represent a broad constituency who depend on Care4Kids to run small businesses and support the success of children and families. As one family child care provider shared, “The families in my community have few resources. All of the children in my program are on Care4Kids. Without it, they would be in unlicensed care or their parents would quit their jobs. If Care4Kids remains closed, no new children will be able to enroll in my program. I will lose my business.” With so much to lose, legislators must make child care a budget priority.

Jessica Sager, Janna Wagner, and Natalie Vieira are the Chief Executive Officer, Chief Learning Officer. and Policy Fellow, respectively, at All Our Kin.

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