With the cost of child care rising in Rhode Island and nationwide, U.S. Senator Jack Reed is seeking to help make child care more affordable for parents and safer and more enriching for children.
Today, Reed joined state officials and child care advocates at Beautiful Beginnings Child Care Center in Providence to hail the U.S. Senate's passage of the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) Act of 2014. Reed wrote key provisions of the bill, which reauthorizes CCDBG for the first time in nearly two decades, and makes national improvements to child care quality and enhances safety measures like facility inspections and background checks to give working moms and dads the confidence of knowing that their children are receiving the proper care.
"Ensuring working parents have access to high-quality, affordable child care is essential to our economy. For many families, child care is their single biggest household expense. Making child care more accessible and affordable for working parents and a safe, enriching learning environment for kids is a smart investment. We want to increase the number of early-learners because these early childhood programs build a strong foundation for future academic success. I also want to help Rhode Islanders get the most out of their child care dollars by enhancing the child tax credit and making it permanent so it is widely available to working families," said Reed.
Reed was joined at the event by Elizabeth Burke Bryant, Executive Director of Rhode Island KIDS COUNT; Representative Grace Diaz, Chair of the Legislative Commission on Child Care; Sandra M. Powell, Director of the Rhode Island Department of Human Services; Janice E. DeFrances, Director of the state Department of Children, Youth and Families; and Khadija Lewis Khan, Executive Director of Beautiful Beginnings Child Care Center.
"Rhode Island benefits from a strong network of child care advocates, and I'm proud to stand with them today to discuss the ways we're working together to improve access to safe, affordable and high quality child care for working families," said Reed, who noted that, in 2012, Rhode Island received a competitive $50 million Race to the Top "Early Learning Challenge Grant" from the U.S. Department of Education. "The state is really making strides when it comes to improving our early learning and development programs and these federal funds are helping to accelerate those efforts. We must make pre-school and child care programs more accessible and effective, especially for the children with the greatest needs."
A recent national report on child care centers by the non-profit advocacy group Child Care Aware of America ranked Rhode Island the 13th least affordable state for infant child care services and 9th least affordable state for child care for the average 4 year old, relative to family income. According to the survey, the average price of infant care in Rhode Island tops $13,000 a year. It can eat up nearly 13 percent of an average couple's income and about 47 percent of a single parent's income. And Rhode Island KIDS COUNT notes that the average annual cost of child care for two children (an infant and a preschooler) in Rhode Island is more than twice the state's median annual rent.
CCDBG is a formula block grant to states. This year, Reed, a member of the Appropriations Committee, helped increase funding for CCBDG by $154 million nationwide. In 2013, Rhode Island received a total of $16.8 million in federal child care subsidies from CCDBG to help an average of 5,700 children per month. The legislation allows eligible families receive vouchers to select the child care provider of their choice. The state of Rhode Island administers the program and provides vouchers to families below 180 percent of the federal poverty level, or 46 percent of the state median income, while families are expected to contribute to the cost of care on a sliding scale. Currently CCDBG serves more than 1.6 million children every month nationwide.
CCDBG incorporates provisions from Reed's previously introduced Child Care Quality Incentive Act. Specifically, the legislation requires states to pursue a market-based and quality-based process for setting payment rates and set aside more money to improve the care children receive. It would also mandate stronger safety requirements for child care providers, including better background checks, annual inspections, and health and safety standards, such as first aid and CPR training for staff.
"We've got to build on the progress we have made," concluded Reed. "If we can provide parents with flexible and affordable child care options that meets their needs, we can build a stronger workforce in Rhode Island and a stronger future for our children. I am pleased we were able to pass this bipartisan bill to help families find child care that meets their needs and raise the standard of care for all child care facilities."