As everyone reading this knows, Maine is a wonderful place to live. It’s a place of amazing beauty filled with communities where it’s easy to get to know your neighbors. In particular, Maine is a great place to raise a family.

The policies we enact in Augusta affect the potential of Maine families. That is why ensuring families have what they need to support their children, while participating fully in the workforce will produce better outcomes for Maine children, families, businesses and our state. We know from child developmental science that stable, consistent experiences and relationships early in life shape the architecture of the developing brain.

Family-friendly policies that help attract and retain workers are particularly important in a tight labor market and in a state where deaths outnumber births. Right now, three proposals before the Maine Legislature respond to the science of child development and support the flexibility families with young children need.

These are policies that not only support Maine families, but also encourage other young families to return or move to Maine, providing a much-needed boost to our workforce and long-term economic future. We must:

• Support paid family and medical leave. At some point, almost every Mainer will need to take extended time away from work for a major life event, like bonding with a new baby or caring for an ailing family member. Without paid leave, most Mainers can’t afford to take time away from work when their families need it most. Research has found that paid family leave can improve infant and maternal health and improves families’ economic stability. Paid leave is also good for Maine businesses, as employees with paid leave are more likely to return to work, reducing turnover costs. We must support L.D. 1964, which creates accessible paid family and medical leave for Maine.

• Invest in child care. Quality, affordable child care is critical to the workforce participation of Maine families. Data from the 2023 Maine KIDS COUNT Data Book found that nearly 70% of Maine children under the age of 6 live in households where all parents work. L.D. 1726 is critical to Maine families and our economy: We know that if parents don’t have access to child care, they can’t go to work. The bill would provide financial assistance so more working Maine families can get the help they need to pay for child care. The proposal also increases support for Head Start, which provides high-quality early care and education to children while supporting their families.

This legislation will also make critical investments in our state’s early childhood educators – the backbone of our workforce – who provide the education and care that allows parents to work and support the early learning and healthy development of Maine children.

• Expand publicly funded preschool programming. We’ve made steady progress on public preschool expansion over the past decade, reaching 50% enrollment for the first time. Yet we know access to preschool varies significantly based on where you live in Maine. It’s time to expand and strengthen preschool options to meet the needs of all Maine families. L.D. 1799 will work to ensure more children can access preschool. Full-day preschool statewide would support children, while also meeting the needs of working parents.

Mainers have a long tradition of working together to solve tough problems. We must take meaningful action now to support the needs of working families and children. Join us and encourage your legislators and Gov. Mills to work together to support paid family and medical leave, investments in child care and public preschool in the closing days of this legislative session. A prosperous future begins with recognizing that our youngest citizens must get what they need to become the adults who will strengthen our communities, build our economy and ensure a bright future for Maine.

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