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Child care advocates are pushing back on proposed changes in supplemental budget proposal

In this photo taken Feb. 12, 2016, Daniel O'Donnell, left, looks on as William Hayden sends large blocks flying at the Creative Kids Learning Center, a school that focuses on pre-kindergarten for 4- and 5-year-olds, in Seattle.
Elaine Thompson
/
AP file
In this photo taken Feb. 12, 2016, Daniel O'Donnell, left, looks on as William Hayden sends large blocks flying at the Creative Kids Learning Center, a school that focuses on pre-kindergarten for 4- and 5-year-olds, in Seattle.

Child care advocates are pushing back on changes included in the governor's supplemental budget proposal that they say would delay crucial initiatives approved last year.

The Legislature passed several child care initiatives as part of a budget deal last year, including the doubling of a child care staff wage supplement. But under Gov. Janet Mills' proposed supplemental budget, some pieces would be delayed or altered.

An expansion of the state's child care subsidy program, expected to begin this January, would be further delayed until July. Another change would make a new program that offers a scholarship to child care workers to pay for care for their own children into a two-year pilot.

Heather Marden, the co-executive director of the Maine Association for the Education of Young Children, said that those delays would further challenge an industry that is still in crisis.

"It's just really hard to keep pushing back that support for families, when it literally is costing them thousands and thousands of dollars, in that meantime," Marden said.

Eamonn Dundon, with the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, opposed the potential changes in written testimony, saying that over the last year, "the child care landscape has gotten worse, not better. We have seen persistent workforce shortages in the industry, programs limiting their capacity, and most troubling, the closing of programs throughout the state."

Chrissie Davis, a provider in Skowhegan, said she and other businesses were thrilled about the new measures passed by the Legislature last year, and the continued delays have been disappointing.

"Just the lack of support is just defeating, is just very hard. It's the financial aspect, more than anything else," Davis said.

Lawmakers will decide which provisions make it into the supplemental budget over the coming weeks.

In an email, Maine Department of Health and Human Services Spokesperson Lindsay Hammes said that the proposal "reflects the immediate realities of funding availability and program implementation, while continuing to thoughtfully advance measures that support access to affordable child care."

Hammes said that the delay in the subsidy expansion was a result of a delay in the effective date of last year's biennial budget law, from July to October, as well as the "need for systems' changing and rulemaking. Last year, the Department testified on the challenges of the implementation timeline for this and the other child care provisions."

Hammes added that the change of the scholarship to a pilot program will allow it to be "modified as needed" and allows for "thoughtful development of a permanent program."