As I speak with families across Lincoln County about the challenges they’re facing, one thing I’m hearing time and again is the difficulty of securing child care. A lack of child care in Maine has been a challenge for some time, but since the beginning of the pandemic, Maine has lost 141 licensed child care providers. Many providers who remain have had to limit the number of children they can care for because of staffing shortages. And, like with many things, this shortage is even worse in rural areas, including much of Lincoln County.
When families can’t find child care, they’re forced to make tough choices. One parent or caretaker is often forced to cut back on hours at work or stop working altogether, taking away valuable income from their family. It’s often women who take on these additional caretaking roles in the home, which can make it even more difficult for those women to reenter the workforce and get back to their careers down the line. The disproportionate caretaking responsibilities women take on throughout their lives is one big reason for the persistent wage gap, but a tighter budget at home impacts the entire family.
We know that early childhood care and education pays dividends throughout a person’s life. Those who were supported and cared for in their early years are more likely to obtain additional education and training, more likely to earn more throughout their careers, and less likely to have contact with our criminal justice system. Clearly, the availability of child care is critical for the success of children, their parents and caregivers, and the family unit as a whole. Perhaps now more than ever, child care is also critical for the small businesses in our community who are looking for workers. It’s estimated that the lack of child care offerings for infants and toddlers alone costs Maine’s economy $180 million in lost earnings annually.
In Augusta, my colleagues and I have focused on passing legislation and investing federal funds to help create more child care slots. Last year, we passed a bill that expands child care offerings by working with existing providers to open new slots, hire and train staff, and improve wages. This year, we’re poised to pass a bill from Speaker Ryan Fecteau that focuses on attracting and retaining child care workers by providing a monthly wage supplement and investing in training more early childhood education workers. Those who choose to work with children are often passionate about their work, but, child care workers are often paid very little, even though they fill such a critical role in a child’s life. We ask child care workers to help our families get by, so it’s important that they be able to provide for their own families, too.
We also directed funds from the American Rescue Plan Act toward expanding child care offerings throughout Maine. These funds went toward two new grant programs that schools and child care providers could apply for. One grant helps child care facilities expand and renovate their facilities to build out our child care infrastructure. The other helps start new Pre-K programs or expand existing Pre-K offerings in communities throughout the state. Applications for the first grant are expected to open in late spring or early summer. The first round of Pre-K grants were awarded in January, and the second round of applications will open this summer. You can learn more about both of these grant programs by visiting www.maine.gov/jobsplan/find-a-program/investments-in-maine-families.
We’ve taken some important steps in the right direction, but expanding child care to make sure that every family and every child has the care and support they need will take sustained investment and attention. If you have questions about any of these measures, or if I can help connect your family with any resources, please reach out to me any time. You can email me at Chloe.Maxmin@legislature.maine.gov or call or text me on my cell phone at 200-6224. You can also follow me on Facebook at facebook.com/ChloeForSenate and sign up for my regular email updates at mainesenate.org.