Over this past weekend, while doing some cleaning, I came across a box from 30 years ago, from my days as a Legislative Assistant for Senator James Jeffords.

In it was an article from the Rutland Herald: “Jeffords Promotes Child Care Proposal.” There was a picture of the Senator on a visit to the Rutland County Parent Child Center. As I looked at it, I recalled him sitting on the floor during that visit playing with a little boy while he talked with the media about his childcare proposal.

It was a memorable moment for me as I watched my boss in his business suit, taking time to play with a preschooler while discussing such an important issue. The reporter quoted him, “Twenty years ago the largest monthly expense facing families was their mortgage – today, for millions of American families, child care has become more costly than their house… at the same time, many kids in child care are cared for by people who are paid less than the person who picks up their trash…”

That was in 1990, 30 years ago yet the problem has not diminished.

Today, parents across Vermont face a painful economic bind; their children are at home, but the childcare payment is still due. COVID–19 has (rightfully) forced the closure of childcare centers across Vermont. That action has underscored the sorry state of the American childcare system. The childcare sector has been long overlooked and long deprived of adequate public investment even though it is foundational to today’s economy.

Nearly 80% of parents with young children are in the workforce. This pandemic has shown all of us how important child care is and how much families rely on its availability.

Over the last three years, Governor Scott and the Vermont Legislature have been increasing our commitment to childcare by increasing funds to the Child Care Financial Assistance Program, initiating scholarship and loan repayment programs for childcare providers.

With the important assistance of “Let’s Grow Kids,” Vermont has increased the availability of childcare spots and the quality of the care provided throughout the State. It is imperative that we do not allow the progress that we have made in childcare to be wiped out by this crisis.

 As Vermonters begin to go back to work, childcare-related questions are increasing. Secretary of the Agency of Human Services Mike Smith indicated on April 27 it is unlikely the system will reopen before June 1.

The Child Development Division (CDD) needs advanced notice to get childcare programs prepared to reopen and operate with COVID-specific health and safety protocols in place.

CDD is currently developing transition and re-opening plans for childcare, in cooperation with the Vermont Department of Health and the Agency of Education. This effort includes child care providers statewide being asked to respond to a survey, which will inform CDD’s final planning document.

CDD is also asking families who need to get back to work to self-assess their eligibility for childcare by referencing the state’s list of Essential Persons and checking the criteria list found under the heading, “Who may receive childcare services at this time?” 

Childcare providers and CDD will accept the self-assessment of a worker seeking childcare.  

 There are provisions for Vermonters who fall out of the “essential persons” category, when their employer is calling them back to work, but they have no childcare. That would be considered a valid reason for the employee to not return to work. That employee may continue to receive unemployment benefits, and their employer is asked to hold open their job until the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order is lifted.  

In other states, childcare centers have been forced to close their doors due to the financial impact from the coronavirus; we have not done that in Vermont. We made a commitment in Vermont to ensure that childcare programs and early childhood educators would be able to reopen at the appropriate time.

As you may have guessed, Senator Jeffords’ childcare legislation never passed in the U.S. Congress. Today, 30 years later, we continue to need more public investment in child care at the state and federal levels so that Vermont and the U.S. can have a child care system that works for today’s families and today’s economy, through this crisis and into the future.

If you have any questions or concerns you would like to discuss, please feel free to email me at jbrumsted@leg.state.vt.us.

Stay home, stay safe and be well.

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