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Fed, State Officials Voice Support For Early Childcare



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Both Governor Ned Lamont and US Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) recently held news conferences to share support for federal funding for early childcare centers.

Speakers at both news conferences, which were shared online and held on January 10, highlighted how the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic added stress to an already stressed system.

Governor Lamont said “one of the biggest issues” is staffing, adding that keeping qualified staff is a priority.

The proposed Build Back Better Act from President Joe Biden would offer support beyond resources that Connecticut has in place, according to the news conference. Governor Lamont said the plan’s support of universal pre-kindergarten is “more important than ever.” Without federal support, Governor Lamont estimated the state could subsidize early childcare for an additional year.

With the Build Back Better Act, as reported by The Associated Press, Connecticut would receive $168 million in the first fiscal year and more over time — for a total of about $700 million over three years — to help design and build a quality early childhood system that pays workers a fair wage, making the industry more financially attractive to applicants.

When the pandemic began, Governor Lamont said, one of the first “calls” he remembers was from hospitals needing childcare. He said making sure “moms and dads” had childcare so they could return to work in hospitals was a focus.

“That was the early reminder of what we needed to do going forward,” said Governor Lamont.

The state set aside a share of its COVID-19 relief funding to support early childcare providers, and about a quarter of the funds were supposed to provide a boost in wages to workers, according to The Associated Press. Connecticut also used some of the COVID funds to train more day care providers, subsidize tuition to encourage more people to enter the profession, and fund a pilot program that provides bonuses to workers with more education in hopes of encouraging them to remain in the profession.

Others who spoke at that news conference were Connecticut Early Childhood Commissioner Beth Bye, Alliance for Community Empowerment Dr Monette Ferguson, and Dr David Morgan, chief executive officer of Team Inc.

“We are definitely at a labor shortage and staffing crisis that really needs significant federal investment,” said Morgan. “We right now have a funding model that compromises fiscal solvency and sustainability of child care.”

Ferguson said the height of the pandemic taught many lessons, and Connecticut was one of the fastest acting states to provide money to early childcare providers. Ferguson added that it is important for families to know that providers are “with them.”

Childcare providers, Ferguson said, are a chain that holds families together, a glue that holds the whole community together.

Morgan said many changes have occurred at early childcare centers since the pandemic began, and distributing COVID-19 testing kits was a help but more are needed.

Regarding labor and staffing, Morgan said there is currently a funding model and market that compromises the sustainability of early childcare, and it will continue after the pandemic if “we do not figure out how to get this right.”

At the second news conference of the day, YMCA Director Adrienne Cocharane, Senator Blumenthal, Executive Director of the Early Childhood Alliance Merrill Gay, and Connecticut Association for Human Services Director Elizabeth Fraser spoke.

The senator urged immediate federal assistance in the form of testing supplies, personal protective equipment (PPE), and for the federal Build Back Better Act to be passed.

Cocharane said the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the already existing problem that childcare centers cannot charge the full amount of what it costs to provide childcare. Wages, Cochrane continued, are not high enough for staff, and the Build Back Better Act would provide an opportunity to create a more sustainable situation while offering livable wages for staff, without charging parents more.

“Our economic recovery depends on people being back at work,” Senator Blumenthal said later.

Without reliable childcare, economic recovery for everyone would be impeded, the senator said.

“Families simply cannot afford the cost of day care, and that is why we need to move on a number of fronts at once,” said Senator Blumenthal.

Masks, COVID-19 test kits, and more need to be provided, the senator said. And no one, he continued, “should spend more than seven percent of what you make on childcare that enables you to go to work.”

“We need it, and we need it now,” said Senator Blumenthal.

Associated Press content was used in this report.

Education Reporter Eliza Hallabeck can be reached at eliza@thebee.com.

US Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) speaks at a January 10 press conference, which was streamed live, to share support for federal funding for early childcare centers.
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