The Biden administration highlighted the efforts of Maine and other states to expand access to affordable child care during a White House event Wednesday.

Maine Senate President Troy Jackson, the driving force behind a $60 million investment in Maine’s child care system as part of the recently approved two-year state budget, participated in a panel discussion at the event. Rep. Rebecca Millett, D-South Portland, also attended.

Federal officials framed the nationwide investments in child care, which began during the pandemic with federal funding and have continued more recently using state funding, as part of “Bidenomics,” which they say aims to strengthen the economy by investing in low- and middle-income families.

That strategy includes investments in the child care workforce and increasing access to affordable, high-quality care for families, as well as expanding paid family and medical leave, and state-level child tax credits – all of which were passed in Maine this year.

First lady Jill Biden told about 100 leaders from 41 states that their initiatives are important for continuing progress made largely through pandemic-era investments in child care because efforts at the federal level are hampered by a divided U.S. Congress.

Biden said the administration views child care as a “critical piece of strengthening our workforce.”


“Joe and the administration is proud to work with all of you to create more avenues to reliable affordable high-quality child care, but there’s only so much we can do without Congress’ support,” Biden said. “I’m so grateful to you for keeping this momentum going. So many of you have found new, innovative ways to help families. From historic investments to small steps that change families’ lives, you are leading the way and every win matters.”


Officials say the lack of child care options for working parents is a drain the economy, costing an estimated $122 billion in lost productivity nationally, including $400 million in Maine.

Biden’s domestic policy adviser, Neera Tanden, said families should not have to make “the hard choice of being a good parent and good worker.”

“That’s a false choice,” Tanden said. “And it is a false choice our country makes families make because we choose not to make these investments.”

A lack of child care workers in Maine means the state’s licensed providers are enrolling roughly 9,400 fewer children than they have the capacity to serve, according a report from ReadyNation, a national group seeking to increase investments in children. It also found 70% of kids live in homes where all available parents work, yet one in five lives in a child care desert, where only one child care slot is available for every three children under the age of 5.


A bill sponsored by Jackson, D-Allagash, and signed by Gov. Janet Mills, devotes about $60 million to Maine’s child care system over the next two years. The law will double monthly stipends for child care workers from $200 to $400 to attract and retain workers.

Jackson’s bill, supported by the Maine Chamber of Commerce, also expands eligibility for child care assistance for families earning up to 125% of the state’s median income – up from the current level of 85%.

Maine Senate President Troy Jackson, shown in January, was the driving force behind a $60 million investment in Maine’s child care system. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Jackson participated in a panel at the White House event alongside California State Sen. Nancy Skinner to discuss strategies to build support for and secure historic state investments in child care, according to Jackson’s spokesperson.

Jackson said in a written statement after the event that he was honored to share ways Maine is tacking its “child care crisis” with other state leaders at the White House.

“Instead of responding with piecemeal solutions, state lawmakers passed a comprehensive budget that raises wages for workers, improves affordability for working parents, and makes long overdue changes to data collection and program delivery for providers,” Jackson said. “These are the type of comprehensive solutions that our families, child care professionals and the economy deserve.”

“But make no mistake,” he added, “our work is just getting started.”



Maine’s new state budget also includes funding to launch a statewide paid family and medical leave program that will provide workers with up to 12 weeks of paid time off to care for a sick family member or recover from their own illness. Workers would receive up to 90% of their regular pay once the program takes effect in 2026.

The state will spend $25 million over the next two years to create the program, but it will be funded in the long term by a new payroll tax of up to 1% that will be split by employees and employers. Businesses with 15 or fewer employees would be exempt from paying into the program, but their employees still would pay into the program and qualify for benefits.

Lawmakers also enacted the Maine Dependent Tax Credit, modeled after the federal tax credit that reduced childhood poverty by 40% during the pandemic. The state credit of $300 per dependent, with future credits indexed to inflation, is less generous than the $3,000 to $6,000 federal credit, which has expired.

During opening remarks at the White House, federal officials highlighted child care investments in New Mexico and Minnesota.

Last year, New Mexico passed a constitutional amendment making early childhood education a constitutional right. The measure passed with over 70% of the vote after 12 years of advocacy.


That was on top of myriad other initiatives, including establishing a $320 million state trust fund for child care, which the governor said has grown to $3.5 billion, and taking advantage of $500 million in federal pandemic funding to train and pay early childhood educators.

New Mexico, like Maine, also offers universal free school meals to students.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said her goal is to ensure that child care providers and early childhood educators have the same salary structure as other public school teachers, which she said were the highest paid in the Southwest. Grisham noted that child care workers have seen their wages increase by 30%.

“We’re not going to be done until we come back here and say they’re the highest-paid education professionals in the country,” the Democrat said. “These are evidenced, trained professionals that make a difference in the development of children from the very beginning. Treat them like professionals and you will create a professional and respectful system that people will want to participate in.”

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