Ask any parent of young kids about the challenges they face, and the issue of child care will almost always come up immediately. Families across Maine are struggling to find open slots at child care facilities in their area — whether that’s daycare for little ones or after-school care for kids who are a little bit older. I’m sure we’ve all heard stories about parents who put their names on waitlists for child care providers months before a new baby was due, only to continue to wait months longer for an open slot.

When parents can’t find care for their kids, they have to make the hard decision to change their work hours. For some that means cutting back to part time, but others leave their job entirely, or else can’t re-enter the workforce after maternity or paternity leave. That means their household income is reduced, and employers lose valuable workers.

A recent report from the Council for A Strong America shows this problem has only worsened over the last few years. Maine has lost 141 licensed child care providers since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. And unfortunately, the centers that are still open often have fewer slots available than they did before because of staffing shortages. It’s a dire problem that must be addressed.

Investing in early childhood care and education pays dividends for our economy and society as a whole. Children who take part in strong early education and child care programs grow up to earn more money, are more likely to pursue higher education or advanced job training, and are significantly less likely to commit crimes. That’s why, in my role as a state senator, I’m proud to support efforts that will help our young families and children thrive.

Last year, we invested federal funds Maine received through the American Rescue Plan to create two new grant programs. One helps child care centers to expand or renovate their facilities, and the other helps to expand the number of public pre-Kindergarten programs in Maine.

Additionally, I voted in favor of a bill to help expand child care slots. Under this bill, which was successfully passed into law, the state works with existing, trusted child care centers to open new slots by hiring and training additional staff, and ensuring those quality workers stay by increasing wages. Chris Emmons, a member of Ready Nation, which is part of the Council for a Strong America, said in testimony supporting this bill, “Child care is a key foundation that supports all segments of Maine’s economy. If we want to help families succeed, and the economy to truly benefit everyone, high-quality child care should be more readily available for children all across Maine.” Taken together, these efforts will make a real difference for Maine families and the dedicated workers who help nurture their kids.

There’s good news at the local level, too. Bath Area Family YMCA was recently awarded $1.5 million in federal funds to create a new child care center. Bath YMCA already does an incredible job helping area families with their enrichment program, which serves 80 children ages 3-5 every year. This investment will help them expand the program to 120 kids, and open it up to infants as well. It will also allow the YMCA to offer more financial aid to families in need. It’s incredible news, and well worth celebrating.

If you have any questions about the measures I mentioned here, or other work going on in the Legislature to support Maine families, you can reach out to me by calling my office at (207) 287-1515 or emailing me at [email protected]

Eloise Vitelli is a state senator representing District 23, covering Sagadahoc County and Dresden.

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