Article and photos by Ramona du Houx
Measure to help parents work and children to succeed advances in party-line vote
Working families would have greater access to quality, affordable childcare under a bill that earned initial House approval Tuesday. The 82-65 vote fell largely along party lines.
“At its core, this is an economic development issue. We can help more low-income parents work, strengthen Maine's economy and prepare the youngest Mainers to succeed throughout their lives,” said Rep. Scott Hamann, D-South Portland, a member of the Health and Human Services Committee. “We know that the investment in early childhood more than pays for itself, saving the state and taxpayers costs like special education down the line.”
LD 1267 uses available federal funds to expand access to quality childcare. It does so by increasing the reimbursement rates to the 60th percentile of the market rate for providers who accept vouchers from working families. The federal government recommends that vouchers pay at the 75th percentile, which was where Maine was until a reduction a few years ago.
Maine was on track to increase its rate from the 50th percentile to the 60th percentile. But the Department of Health and Human Services unexpectedly decided last month to retain the 50th percentile rate.
The rate reduction shrank the number of providers accepting vouchers, limiting quality childcare options for low-income working families and their young children. Parents and childcare providers were caught by surprise. Some providers, include Head Start agencies, had built budgets for their businesses that assume the 60th percentile.
Path to a Better Future: The Fiscal Payoff of Investment in Early Childhood in Maine, by University of Maine economist Philip Trostel, found a 7.5 percent return on investment. It also found that high-quality preschool education for a low-income child saves taxpayers an average of $125,400 over the child’s lifetime – more than five times the initial investment.
LD 1267 faces further action in the House and Senate.