Creative Commons

Our lives are filled with festivities that mark important milestones: Most people celebrate their birthdays, toast to turning 21, or look ahead to a renewed sense of purpose that follows a retirement party. Here in 2023, parents honor another significant occasion: The moment when they can finally stop paying out-of-pocket costs for child care because their child enters kindergarten.

It might sound silly, but I’ve been to three of these bashes so far. Make no mistake: Not having to pay for child care is a big deal in a parent’s life.

Consider my friend Anca. She’s in her mid-thirties, a single mother of an 8-year old and a 2-year old. Like many parents, Anca works from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., so her eldest needs care before and after school. With no family nearby to help, her 2-year-old son needs full-time child care. Even though Anca qualifies for the state’s Care4Kids program, she still has to pay more than $10,000 a year for child care, an amount far more expensive than she can afford until her child gets into public school.

Anca is counting the days when child care turns into after-school care only. In the decade I have been advocating for the early education industry, stories like Anca’s have become typical. Without support from the professional educators who care for her children every day, Anca couldn’t keep her job.

It shouldn’t be this way. The child care industry here in Connecticut and around the country is on the verge of collapsing. But instead of giving child care providers and working parents the support they so desperately need, Gov. Ned Lamont’s budget proposal reduces the number of families getting the Care 4 Kids child care subsidies and does nothing to address chronically low pay for childcare providers, making it even harder to put child care on stable footing for the long term.

While parents around the state are worrying about how to pay their child care bills and giving up saving for retirement, college, or buying a house, the governor’s budget proposal fell painfully short of the real relief our state needs.

The outlook for child care would soon get worse. A day after the governor released his budget proposal, legislators agreed on imposing another decade of a firm spending cap that makes it harder to use surplus funds in creative manners. That means transformational change for Connecticut’s early education industry will be stuck in bureaucratic limbo until our political leadership finds the will to make it a priority.

Our elected leaders are hurting parents and children in the name of fiscal discipline.

These poorly designed proposals come at a time when the need for affordable child care options has never been more obvious. The Connecticut Office of Early Childhood recently released the findings of a survey of nearly 6,000 parents, showing that many families across the state pay between 8-19% of their annual income on child care and significantly above the national average.  Nearly four in 10 families said they work less to stay home and care for their kids, and lose pay for the working hours they miss. As a first step Connecticut families need an increase to levels of enrollment in all state subsidy programs, retaining Care4Kids eligibility at 60% of state median income and raising reimbursement rates to the 75th percentile.

Worries about a potential recession are no excuse for legislative inaction to solve our state’s child care crisis. We need reforms now. That’s why the Child Care for Connecticut’s Future coalition, which I co-chair, is calling for real investments in the early care industry, to the tune of $700 million. We’re also calling on the legislature to approve an immediate wage increase of $7,500 for all early educators, to put their pay in line with what public school teachers typically earn. Eventually, no family in Connecticut should have to spend more than 7% of their income on child care costs, and securing that compensation enhancements for educators match those of their peers.

This session, several child care bills will work their way through our legislative process. It’s time for legislators to recognize all of the benefits that flow from supporting child care providers and educators: Teachers can earn a livable wage, parents can go back to work, and families will have more spending power. Supporting our child care industry is common sense – it’s good for our economy and good for our kids. Another Band-Aid solution won’t cut it. Without the child care industry, there is no workforce to power Connecticut’s economy.

Legislators need to seize the moment with bold solutions for Connecticut’s families and child care providers. If they listen, maybe parents could go back to celebrating only the usual: a birthday here, a promotion there. They could even save for retirement and then finally enjoy that party.

Eva Bermúdez Zimmerman is Co-Chair of the Child Care for Connecticut’s Future coalition, CSEA SEIU’s Child Care Director and has served on the Governor’s Early Childhood Cabinet since 2018.