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Child care providers, parents call for more support amid persistent workforce crisis

Volunteer Patsy Ciampi and teacher Matthew Little-Farmer at Catherine Morrill Day Nursery in Portland in May.
Rebecca Conley
/
Maine Public
Volunteer Patsy Ciampi and teacher Matthew Little-Farmer at Catherine Morrill Day Nursery in Portland in May.

Dozens of child care providers, parents and advocates testified for more three hours Wednesday, urging lawmakers to support a bill aimed at raising wages for child care workers and expanding access to more Maine families.

The proposal from Senate President Troy Jackson, which has some bipartisan support, would double the current wage stipend for child care providers to $400 a month.

Camelia Babson-Haley, who runs the Youth and Family Outreach Center in Portland, said 16 of her employees have resigned over the last three years because they couldn't afford to stay in child care. She's closed one of her classrooms because she can't fully staff the facility.

"In my 34 years in the field, I have never experienced the instability that is compromising the foundation of our industry at this current time," she told state lawmakers. "Our workforce is disappearing."

Several child care providers told similar stories.

Jackson's proposal would also expand the number of Maine families who are eligible for child care subsidies to households earning 125% of the state's median income.

Maine has about 350 fewer child care providers today as compared to a decade ago, he said.

"Parents are toiling away on lengthy waitlists while being forced to either cut back their working hours or exit the workforce altogether.," Jackson said. "For employers, the lack of child care has only added to the existing workforce shortages, which negatively effects their bottom line. As for the professionals who work in, or run child care programs, they're struggling to make ends meet."

Several business advocates, including Mike Roughton of the Manufacturers Association of Maine, said child care shortages across the state have created a never-ending cycle of workforce challenges for their own employees.

"We believe the greatest hindrance to reentry to the workforce is access to affordable, quality child care," Roughton said.

The bill would also create a state task force aimed at providing broader improvements to Maine's child care industry, including a plan by 2030 to keep costs affordable for families. All told, the proposal envisions using about $30 million in state funds to pay for the initiatives over the next two years.