NORTH PROVIDENCE – At an Oct. 14 forum, child care providers, advocates and lawmakers warned of the staffing crisis currently impacting the child care and early education sectors, and Gov. McKee’s proposal to use American Rescue Plan Act funds to help address the situation.
The forum was held at Tri-County’s Head Start classroom in North Providence. McKee’s proposal called for $13 million for child care, including a $2,000 retention bonus for someone staying in a child care position for 12 months.
Leanne Barrett, senior policy analyst at Rhode Island Kids Count and a leader in the Right from the Start Campaign, stated that overall this would come down to around a $13 hourly wage for those in the field, which she said is helpful, but still isn’t great.
“It definitely helps a little bit and we totally support it, but we are asking for more,” Barrett said. “The total number they are asking for is $50 million.”
Barrett said minimum wage currently stands at $11.50, and $12.11 is the hourly wage that is typical for child care educators in Rhode Island. While some child care centers in Rhode Island pay more than that, child care providers emphasized throughout the forum that it is very difficult to attract and retain qualified, skilled, and trained educators to work for the wages they are able to provide.
This problem has occurred in many child care programs in recent years and the pandemic has made it more severe, they said, adding that wages do not stand out from other places that are hiring, including Target at $15 per hour.
“The $50 million would help us with improving wages even more, particularly for the effective educators who have qualifications, because with minimum wage you’re competing with people who don’t have any background in child development,” Barrett said. “So we want to raise the wages even more in a targeted way.”
Some of the specific policy changes McKee and the General Assembly are being called to act upon include the following:
• Help more families pay for care by increasing the family income limit for a child care subsidy;
• Help child care programs compete for staff without increasing family fees;
• Stop the “brain drain” of qualified child care educators;
• Provide support to maintain and increase access to infant/toddler care for families with a subsidy;
• And pass the Early Educator Investment Act.
Advocates said child care is a fundamental issue for working parents because with staffing shortages, programs are being forced to reduce hours or close. This leaves parents who need reliable care to go back to work with no options.
“A lot of families make too much to qualify for the subsidy, but they still don’t make enough for child care on their own,” Barrett said. “We want to reduce the amount you have to make to qualify for the subsidy so more families can afford childcare.”
Lisa Hildebrand, executive director of RIAEYC, said this is a fundamental issue, especially for working parents. With the staffing shortage, a number of child care programs are being forced to reduce hours and/or close classrooms.
“When providers have to reduce hours or close programs, it creates chaos for working families who have to scramble to find alternative child care options, increases waitlists, and reduces the overall number of child care seats available across Rhode Island.” Hildebrand said.
Smithfield Sen. Steve Archambault recalled how important it was to his development to have adequate care from his own parents.
“It’s not an easy fix, as you get older you look back and see that there is no better impetus than personal experience,” he said. “Our objective is, let’s get people back to work, let’s provide adequate child care. We certainly want to get money out of the people that need it.”
Rep. Grace Diaz said the child care sector has been in a crisis throughout the pandemic, as well as prior to the pandemic.
“The most important thing is to invest in children, invest in child care, along with investing in businesses and first responders,” she said.