Bill proposes support for childcare for both parents and providers


Monitor staff

Published: 02-15-2023 5:39 PM

On any given day at the Waypoint Children’s Place and Education Center, Kelly Bozetarnik wears many different hats. Her formal role is the director. But most days at the child care center off of Loudon Road, she is a director, a teacher, an assistant and even the chef, making breakfast and lunch for children enrolled.

Waypoint should be able to host 50 children a day at its center. Instead, 35 are currently enrolled, with a maximum capacity of 25 children a day. Under enrollment is not for a lack of interest, but instead, a staffing shortage that requires the nonprofit to scale back its services.

This reality is felt by many child care centers across the state and it’s a two-pronged issue that affects both those looking to provide child care, and those in need of services. Employees are seeing higher wages offered for hourly gigs at places like Dunkin’ that has caused many to leave the field. Parents are seeing year-long waitlists and increased costs for essential services for their children.

The Child Care for New Hampshire Working Families Act, formally known as SB-237 in the Legislature, is looking to change this landscape. Sponsored by Becky Whitley, a Concord Democrat, the bill aims to adjust eligibility and enrollment policies to increase access to scholarships and provide incentives for employers to hire and retain staff.

A costly crisis

The cost of child care in New Hampshire comes with a hefty price tag. For infants, parents can expect to pay over $14,000 per year.

This would consume 11 percent of a two-parent household’s income that earns $120,000 annually. For a single parent, this increases to 37 percent.

“This is a lot of money, and it’s unaffordable for families,” said Whitley. “We have a system that is pretty broken, and our families just can’t afford it.”

The demand for child care also exceeds supply. Throughout the state since 2019, there have been 42 centers that have closed.

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This means that an estimated 1,500 slots for children were eliminated as a result.

For Sebastian Fuentes, the need for child care in his family is clear. He and his wife have five young children, but instead of sending them to a child care facility while he works his day job as a lobbyist in the State House, his wife remains home.

This is not to say she has left the workforce, though. Instead, she works overnight shifts three times a week to make ends meet for their family.

“If it wasn’t for that, we wouldn’t be able to pay our bills. That’s just a reality of many young families,” he said.

Even with a dual income, the cost of child care for their young children would total $36,000 a year, said Fuentes. At that price point, it is out of budget.

State-issued scholarships are intended to help families like Fuentes. But with tedious paperwork and varying cost shares, these services difficult to use due to bureaucratic barriers, said Whitley.

Legislative action

The Child Care for New Hampshire Working Families Act looks to address the issue from both the provider and parent side.

For parents, the bill proposes altering income eligibility to 85 percent of the state median income. This translates to $102,698 annually for a family of four or $69,835 for a single parent with one child, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

The bill would also expand the scholarship work requirement to include enrollment in any higher education program, allowing for parents to go to school while receiving childcare support.

It also would adjust the cost-share requirements and reimbursement rates to alleviate upfront costs.

For employers, the bill would create a state treasury fund to finance recruitment and retention bonuses and grants. This money can help supplement annual incentives for providers.

It also focuses on incentives for individuals to join the childcare sector, creating a scholarship for early childhood education credits through the community college system and focusing on career paths for high school students.

“All we’re talking about is affordability and improving access, making sure that all families have access to affordable child care,” said Whitley. “This is a real comprehensive approach to building a strong system to support families, of course, and to support our child care providers.”

The proposal comes with a price tag, however. For the upcoming fiscal year, the bill would appropriate $14 million to the Department of Health and Human Services to manage and implement these changes.

An economic issue

Competitors to the childcare workforce don’t come in the form of other agencies that pay better or extend benefit packages. Instead, they’re fast food restaurants and hourly gigs that pay more than childcare agencies throughout the state.

“We want them to be professional.. but we’re not paying them like professionals. They can get a job at Dunkin Donuts making the same amount of money,” said Jonathan Hopkins, the pastor for Concordia Lutheran Church in Concord.

Since 2019, the church has run an early learning child care center. Like many, the center is experiencing a teacher shortage. With more staff, they could host 10 more kids a day, said Hopkins.

The average annual salary for a childcare provider in the state is just over $24,000 according to New Futures. This translates to less than $12 an hour.

It is not only the case that parents in the community can’t afford to send their kids to childcare. Often, those working in the industry are also struggling to make do in their community.

By increasing hourly pay and providing benefits, the state would see positive economic correlation, said Whitley.

Since the pandemic, the state has seen a 10 percent decrease in the number of women in the workforce.

By increasing the participation rate of women by just 1.3 percent, the state would add over $1 billion to its gross domestic product by 2031, said Whitley.

She also provided a nation-wide context. For every dollar that is spent on childcare funding, taxpayers can see a return of 13 percent.

“We have to think about the benefits to our economy and to our families,” she said. “When we’re investing in systems we’re investing in and strengthening our families and we’re investing in our economy.”

A similar bill sponsored by Whitley was signed into law by the governor last year, which created a childcare workforce fund, focused on recruitment and retention for child care employees.