For prospective parents, it is impossible to consider the possibility of starting a family without also considering the role of child care. In fact, society’s fundamental need for child care has inspired the development of blogs as well as professional and academic fields devoted solely to finding the best providers. Citing this wide array of resources as evidence, some may be quick to conclude that modern child care offers greater parental control than ever before over the care children receive. However, behind this facade lies the harrowing truth of the contemporary United States child care system: for many families, it is not a matter of which child care provider, but if child care is even an option.
In response to these concerns, Senate bills 931, 933, and 934 seek to ensure that affordability and accessibility do not stand in the way of families looking to provide this basic resource for their children.
Child care always has been and will continue to be a necessity for families in Connecticut. The Child Care in State Economics 2019 Update approximates that there are currently 183,321 children between ages zero and four residing in the state. However, a mere 61.2 percent of Connecticut children ages zero to five are enrolled in a form of nonparental care for more than ten hours per week. The apparent disconnect between the large demand and marginal use of child care begs the question of why so many families have forgone this necessity. What is the force driving Connecticut families out of the child care market?
Perhaps the most obvious answer to this question is the rising price of child care. Depending upon the type of care and the age of the child, annual care costs for a single child can exceed $15,000. In Connecticut, the median cost of child care accounts for up to 20.4 percent of the median state income, depending on the type of care, and the cost of center-based care is about 22.1 percent greater than the cost of annual in-state public college tuition.
With such a high price tag, there is no doubt that the costs of child care have spiraled out of proportion. While child care has remained a necessity, it has been priced as a luxury – only affordable to a fraction of those who require it.
Although the lack of affordability of child care undoubtedly poses great risk, a more concealed threat –its physical accessibility– is just as pertinent. In Connecticut, the U.S. state with the second-highest income inequality, family access to child care closely follows lines of economic stratification. Nationwide, only approximately 50 percent of children with a combined parental income up to $60,000 are enrolled in regular care, while 79 percent of those with a combined parental income greater than $150,000 are enrolled in these programs.
While those who live in more affluent communities have the means to pick and choose between child care providers, those who live in poorer neighborhoods face trouble finding a provider altogether. The unequal access families have to this essential resource extends beyond their economic status. The Center for American Progress’ 2018 report approximates that three in five rural communities lack affordable child care, and Hispanic/Latino families disproportionately reside in areas with insufficient child care. As a result of the ever-growing divide between those who have access to child care and those who do not, the term child care desert has been used to classify areas lacking access to affordable child care.
In Connecticut, it is estimated that a precipitous 44 percent of families currently reside in a child care desert.
Despite attempts by Connecticut’s child care subsidy program, Care 4 Kids, to remedy these problems, its efforts have failed to address the gravity of the issues facing working-class families. Largely underfunded, the program closed its doors to new applicants in 2016 and the number of enrolled infants and toddlers plummeted by over 40 percent (from 8,200 participants to 4,400). Although the program eventually reopened a year later with an additional $14 million in federal funding, the effects of its closing still linger.
During the period of the funding gap, while families in more affluent areas could afford the high costs associated with private tuition costs, those in the low-income cities and towns of Hartford, New Haven, and New Britain could not. In total, 250 child care homes and 140 child care centers permanently closed in Connecticut, further exacerbating the inequality of an already inaccessible institution. As it stands now, the Care 4 Kids program is not well-equipped to respond to both the breadth and the magnitude of child care inadequacies facing families in Connecticut.
However, seven Connecticut state representatives and one state senator have proposed a package of three bills –Senate Bills 931, 933, and 934– in the 2019 Connecticut General Assembly that aim to significantly improve access to affordable child care. As of now, Senate Bills 933 and 934 have each received a favorable change of reference –a referral to another committee with an expression of support for the bill’s passage– by the State House and Senate to the Committee on Appropriations.
Senate Bill 931 has been referred to the Office of Legislative Research and Office of Fiscal Analysis, which provides nonpartisan research on the potential impact of bills on Connecticut industry, occupations, and other groups of interest. Together, the package seeks to expand the eligibility requirements in order to enroll more Connecticut families in the Care 4 Kids program. By passing these measures, Connecticut would make child care accessible to more Connecticut residents, and also more affordable to families who were previously enrolled in the program.
Co-sponsored by State Representative Michael Winkler (D-56) and State Senator Alexandra Bergstein (D-36), Senate Bill 931 seeks to increase the amount covered by Care 4 Kids vouchers to at least 75 percent of the market rate cost of child care. For most families, current Care 4 Kids certificates cover only a fraction of the actual cost of child care, leaving families to foot the difference. The increase in funding included in the bill would translate to more money in the pockets of parents to pay for additional expenses associated with raising a family.
State Senate Bill 933, co-sponsored by State Representatives Josh Elliott (D-88), Robin Comey (D-102), and Michael Winkler (D-56), aims to widen eligibility to enroll in the Care 4 Kids program from 50 percent to 75 percent of the state median income. By lowering the financial barrier to receiving subsidized child care, the bill would make child care more affordable to more families in Connecticut. As child care is one of the most costly expenses associated with raising a child, State Senate Bill 933 would help to ensure that families who need assistance are receiving it.
Lastly, State Senate Bill 934, co-sponsored by State Representatives Quentin Phipps (D-100), Josh Elliott (D-88), Robin Comey (D-102), Russell Morin (D-28), Tim Ackert (R-8), and Rick Lopes (D-24), would allow parents who are also students at an institution of higher education to enroll their children in the Care 4 Kids program.
As Care 4 Kids is currently set up, parents enrolled in a college or university program are not eligible for state-funded child care. Even the smallest complication could pressure a parent to drop out of college altogether in order to provide necessary care. Investing in child care for these individuals would not only mean ensuring their well-being, but also bettering the Connecticut economy by supporting education and skill-building among the state’s residents. Together, these measures are a critical step towards ensuring that Connecticut is a state where affordable, accessible child care is a reality for all.
Simply put, Connecticut’s child care deficiencies affect residents all over the state: they are our family, our friends, our neighbors. It is therefore vital that Connecticut paves the way for other states to follow by recognizing the immense value of child care. With this step in the right direction, we will not be merely investing in the child care industry–we will be investing in our economy, and in our Connecticut families.
Henry Smith is a member of the Yale College Democrats.
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