Child care is key in helping parents return

Published 4:03 pm Thursday, October 19, 2023

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By Rep. Anthony Daniels 

Special to The Lowndes Signal

As if it wasn’t already hard enough, working parents and families in Alabama are now facing even more challenges. The federal child care stabilization grant program ran out at the end of September, impacting an estimated 8 in 10 child care programs here and across the nation. Some are scaling back their schedules or limiting attendance. Others will be forced to close entirely. 

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For Alabamians, the situation is especially dire. We’re already facing a shortage of child care workers and in some rural areas child care is extremely limited, if it even exists. Meanwhile, access to affordable child care is one of the leading issues keeping mothers and parents out of the workforce. The expiration of this vital support means an estimated 33,000 kids will lose child care as 570 child care programs across the state are expected to close. 

What can we do about it? For starters let’s give businesses more tools to support child care for their employees. One way is to establish an employer tax credit and a child care provider tax credit to enhance workforce participation and help ensure all our children are set on a path to success. 

Under the program, which I introduced in the House and Senator Gudger introduced in the Senate, employers would have three paths to qualify for the credit: building an on-site facility, partnering with local facilities, or providing a stipend for employee child care expenses. They could receive a credit of up to $1 million (with a total cap of $15 million) and child care facilities would be eligible for a credit of up to $25,000 (with a total available credit of $5 million). 

In addition, the proposal prioritizes enhanced support for child care centers based on quality ratings and criteria. For example, support for centers with a five-star quality rating is $2,000 per eligible child, a four-star quality rating is $1,750 per eligible child, a three-star quality rating is $1,500 per eligible child, and so on. 

With rising costs and a lack of options, child care is a growing obstacle for working parents, especially women and moms, to advance their careers and prosper. In fact, Alabamians miss work for child care purposes at a higher percentage than any other state. The numbers speak for themselves:

  • Almost 20 percent of employed Alabamians missed work due to child care challenges in 2021. 
  • 4 in 10 Alabama kids lack access to child care, impacting both their futures and their parents’ ability to work. 
  • Last year, nearly 85,000 Alabama families needed access to child care but had no quality, affordable options in their communities. 

See, the lack of accessible and affordable child care has real economic consequences. For example, due to the end of the child care stabilization grant program, Alabama parents are expected to lose an estimated $75 million in earnings by being forced to cut their hours or leave work altogether. In turn, that translates into $86 million less in employer productivity and $2.7 million less in state income tax revenue. 

The bottom line is parents make up about 35 percent of our workforce and for too many of them getting to work isn’t always as simple as just “getting off their fannies.” It requires real investments in infrastructure, like child care, transportation, broadband, and more. And it calls for bipartisan legislative solutions, like child care tax credits, to grow our economy and give all hard-working families the opportunity to prosper. 

Instead of just lamenting low workforce participation, it’s time for Alabama to take a hard look at the underlying reasons and address them through pro-growth policies that benefit families, children, and businesses. I am honored to serve on the ad hoc committee assembled by Speaker Ledbetter to study Alabama’s labor force participation rates and identify barriers to workforce entry. Recently, the bipartisan committee held its first meeting and we identified childcare as a primary focus. I hope we can come together to begin to address this issue head-on because, with the lack of a clear path forward in Congress, it’s going to be left up to us. 

As a parent of two young children, I know just how important quality, affordable, reliable child care is. Even with a steady child care provider, some days our schedule can seem like a juggling act between work, activities, family commitments, and more. But equally, if not more, important is supporting child care as an investment in the workforce of tomorrow. We know that the majority of brain growth and development takes place early on in life. We know that the workplace is becoming increasingly reliant on technology, robotics, automation, and AI. One day these kids are going to lead Alabama into the future. Let’s not waste a moment preparing them to succeed today.