There was some potential good news for parents of young children in President Barack Obama's State of the Union address last week. The president focused on the importance of early education, and backed it up with a proposal to increase a child care tax credit up to $3,000.
Julie Coffey, the executive director of Building Bright Futures, a non-profit that serves as the state's early childhood advisory council, says it's a step toward improving Vermont's child care system.
In Vermont, nearly 65,000 children under 13 live in households where every parent is working. "That's over 70 percent of two parent, two child families in the labor force, so it's really an important service. We don't have the capacity to serve all of these children," Coffey said. In fact, she said there are only enough licensed child care providers to serve 40 percent of those children.
"Though the tax credit is a great first step, the child care system itself is still woefully inadequate for families here in Vermont, for families who want to move to Vermont, who want to find work, but who, without child care are unable to move to Vermont," Coffey said.
For those who can find care, it often represents a huge chunk of a family's budget. Coffey pointed to a Joint Fiscal Office estimate of $8,000 per child, per year, though she added that the number is higher in some parts of Vermont.
"A lot of working parents just cannot afford child care. So it does affect our economy, it affects jobs," she said.
The state has a subsidy system in place to help families pay for child care, but Coffey said the system doesn't meet the needs of families. "It is not strong enough and we must support it. It requires more funding, but that's hard to come by these days." It's only available to families with incomes at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. That's around $50,000 for a two-parent, two-child family.
"If you look at the Joint Fiscal Office's assessment of basic needs of a Vermont family, say a two parent, two child family, they assess an annual income to meet basic needs at around $75,000," Coffey explained. "So you can see that many families make just over 200 percent federal poverty level and are therefore ineligible for any subsidies, any supports, and I think that is a problem for a lot of Vermonters."
But, the president's plan is just a proposal, and it's unclear if it will make it through Congress. "The child care tax credit has not been updated in so many years, my hope is that yes, it is something that is popular with bipartisan support. I think a lot of Republican leaders see the value in investments in early childhood because of what we know about brain science," Coffey said.
Coffey said that quality, affordable child care isn't just a problem for parents, it's an issue for all taxpayers. "The truth is these same taxpayers are already paying for a growing prison population, growing health care costs. There is a lot of scientific evidence which makes the case that high quality, early education, healthy, loving and supportive early childhood environments have long term health outcomes, have long term economic outcomes, and long term social outcomes. We consider investments in early childhood an inoculation against poverty, crime, and health problems."
View Building Bright Future's full Early Childhood Budget Report here.