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Maine childcare workers can now get help to pay for their own childcare costs

Adriane Burnett reads to her son Karter Robinson on Saturday, April 14, 2024 in Birmingham, Ala. Women's participation in the American workforce has reached a high point, but challenges around child care are holding back many working class parents. When women without college degrees face an interruption in child care arrangements – whether it's at a relative's home, a preschool or a daycare center – they are more likely to have to take unpaid time or to be forced to leave their jobs altogether, according to an Associated Press analysis. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
Butch Dill/AP
FR111446 AP
Adriane Burnett reads to her son Karter Robinson on Saturday, April 14, 2024 in Birmingham, Alabama.

Childcare workers in Maine are now eligible for state subsidies of up to more than $600 per month to pay for their own childcare costs.

The two-year pilot program, which goes into effect this month, is one of several childcare initiatives included in a state budget deal last year.

Rita Furlow, a senior policy analyst with the Maine Children's Alliance, said that some were disappointed that it took more than a year for the program to launch, but she said the incentives should bring stability and entice workers into the field.

"There is going to be more, of course, work to be done, to really increase wages, where they ultimately should be. But this is a great first step," Furlow said.

Staff at any licensed child care program are eligible to apply for subsidies of up to $330 every two weeks. If a worker is eligible for Maine's childcare subsidy program, the state would cover the program's parent fee. A spokesperson for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services said the Office of Child and Family Services expects that about 500 child care staff will be able to receive the new subsidy.

The agency also said in a memo last week that it plans to begin providing "stability grants" to child care providers starting in August, with amounts ranging from $800 total for a small family child care to more than $12,000 total for a larger child care center. The grants, which come from unspent state funds, can be used to recruit staff, assist families and maintain operations.

A DHHS spokesperson also said that the Office of Child and Family Services filed emergency and proposed rules on Monday expanding eligibility for the state's childcare subsidy program to families making up to 125% of the state median income. The new rules begin July 1.

Heather Marden, the co-executive director of the Maine Association for the Education of Young Children, said the new programs — as well as an existing monthly salary stipend program for childcare workers — are generating some optimism from providers, after years of struggle.

"Having this unique benefit, you know, trying to raise wages through the salary supplement program, are things we're seeing start to bolster the workforce," Marden said.

But Marden also noted that with more workers entering the childcare industry, the state is now having to cut the amount it provides to childcare workers each month. Marden said her organization plans to push for more childcare funding in the next state budget.