Accessible, high-quality child care is essential for the growth and development of Maine’s children, supporting working families and strengthening Maine’s economy. The Jan. 29 editorial, “Our View: Lack of child care holding back children, parents – and Maine’s economy,” lacked key information about how Maine is improving the quality of child care services, increasing accessibility and supporting the state’s child care providers.

The child care “gap” – meaning the number of parents in need of child care who can’t access those services within a reasonable distance from their home – is a challenge in many states. As the Press Herald editorial board correctly noted, this puts families in a difficult position, holds back the economy and affects the ability of children and families to thrive, particularly in rural areas. But a recent analysis by the Bipartisan Policy Center found Maine’s child care gap of 4,920 children was the lowest among the 24 states analyzed, with the next smallest gap in Vermont, at 5,800 children. In larger states like Wisconsin, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan and North Carolina, the gap was over 100,000 children.

The Maine Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Child and Family Services, in coordination with Gov. Mills’ Children’s Cabinet, supports high-quality child care through licensing of child care facilities and administering the Child Care Subsidy Program, which provides financial support for child care to eligible families in which the parents are working, attending school or participating in a job training program. Through this program, Maine has also launched several initiatives to expand access to the types of care where capacity is most needed. For example, last July, eligible parents began receiving a weekly stipend of $100 per infant, paid to their child care provider, and providers with high quality ratings also began receiving an incremental 10 percent payment increase for infants and toddlers.

The Office of Child and Family Services recognizes providers who are providing care above and beyond the basic standards for early care through the Quality Rating and Improvement System. We also offer professional development and technical assistance to child care providers through the Maine Roads to Quality Professional Development Network. The state additionally maintains the Child Care Choices website, which allows families to locate and connect with providers in their area. The site shows available child care slots for each provider, making it easier for families to connect with available providers and identify which providers accept child care subsidy.

Maine’s efforts to support providers during the COVID-19 pandemic are also having a positive impact. In Maine, 92 percent of child care providers are open statewide, up from a low of just over 50 percent at the start of the pandemic. We commend providers for their diligent efforts to keep children and families safe, which have resulted in fewer than 10 percent of all providers having a single positive COVID-19 test within their facility since the start of the pandemic.

The Office of Child and Family Services has regularly updated COVID-19 guidance for providers and their staff, as well as providing $10 million in federal CARES Act funding directly to providers through stipends and grants. Maine also directed CARES Act funding to provide qualifying essential workers with child care subsidy from April to June 2020. The Mills administration additionally made available $8.4 million in coronavirus relief funds to child care providers to reimburse them for COVID-19-related business costs. We look forward to receiving more information from the federal government about Maine’s share of additional child care funding allocated in the federal stimulus bill passed at the end of December in order to provide additional funding and support to providers and families.

We recognize the challenges that many Maine families face in finding child care and remain committed to addressing them. Maine has made significant strides already and will continue to seek new opportunities to encourage the growth of high-quality and affordable child care for Maine children and families.

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