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Jan. 28, 2024Lincoln, Neb. |  By: AP

Covering child care costs for daycare workers could fix Nebraska’s provider shortage, senator says

child care

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska is looking to follow in the footsteps of Kentucky in implementing a program that covers the costs of child care for child care workers. The idea, presented Friday by Omaha Sen. John Fredrickson to the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, is that the benefit will draw more workers into the child care industry, which is experiencing dire shortages across the county.

Nebraska’s bill would cover 100% of the child care costs for child care professionals with young kids if they work for a licensed child care facility for at least 20 hours a week, regardless of their household income.

The idea is showing success in Kentucky, which passed its subsidy program in 2022, Fredrickson said. By November 2023, Kentucky had seen an additional 3,200 child care providers join the state’s ranks providing care for 5,700 more children than the year before, according to child advocate group Kentucky Youth Advocates.

If Nebraska were to see a proportional impact, its bill would add 2,175 new child care workers caring for an additional 3,535 children, Fredrickson said.

Nebraska is among the latest states that are seeking or have enacted similar legislation. That includes Iowa, which passed a similar bill last year. Colorado and Indiana also have introduced child care subsidy bills for providers.

“That makes it even more urgent that we create this program now,” Fredrickson said. “Nebraska has an opportunity to become a leader in our nation in solving child care gaps, and subsequently, our workforce concerns.”

Like other states, Nebraska’s child care industry has dwindled in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 91% of Nebraska’s 93 counties don’t have enough child care spots to meet demand, and at least 10 counties have no child care provider at all, according to a recent survey commissioned by Nebraska Extension and We Care for Kids. An estimated 28% of all Nebraska children live in so-called child care deserts, defined as U.S. Census tracts— about 4,000 people, on average — where there are either no child care providers or three times as many children as child care spots available.

“In that survey, 34% of parents with children age 5 and younger reported refusing a work opportunity because it would increase their child care expenses,” said Anahi Salazar, policy coordinator with Voices for Children.

Salazar, who attended Friday’s hearing with her 6-month-old son, said she would have been among those squeezed out of the workforce if her employer didn’t allow her to bring her baby to work. That’s because the child care she had arranged for him before his birth fell through, and the only other child care providers within driving distance had nearly one-year waiting periods for an open spot.

“If I had still been a teacher, I would have been fired or would have had to resign,” Salazar said.

The Nebraska program, as proposed, is estimated to cost $21 million. Fredrickson said that cost is dwarfed by the estimated $498 million lost to Nebraska families annually from missed work opportunities due to lack of child care access.

“It’s not possible to address child care issues in this state without significant investment,” Fredrickson said.

Eight people testified in favor of the program Friday, and another 70 letters of support were sent to the committee. No one testified against it, and only one letter of opposition was sent to the committee.