COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Childcare providers and business leaders alike are eagerly awaiting the Tuesday unveiling of the Ohio Senate’s budget proposal, where they hope to find a chunk of change designed to get parents back in the workforce.
Since the Ohio House in April deleted $150 million set aside in Gov. Mike DeWine’s biennial budget proposal to ease the burden of child care’s hefty price tag, early education workers and dozens of chambers of commerce have sounded the alarm about the plight of the Buckeye State’s workforce and the development of its kids.
“We have a workforce on the sidelines,” said Lynanne Gutierrez, chief operating and policy officer at Groundwork Ohio, a Columbus-based early childhood advocacy nonprofit.
That’s why Gutierrez, other childhood advocates and about a dozen chambers of commerce across Ohio want the Senate to revive DeWine’s $150 million childcare scholarship program for roughly 12,000 kids whose parents work in “critical occupations” like nurses, law enforcement and childcare providers themselves.
The program, funded by federal coronavirus aid money, would provide one-time grants to workers who earn up to 200% of the poverty line, or about a $60,000 salary for a family of four, according to DeWine’s budget proposal.
In Ohio, the average annual cost of infant care is nearly $10,000, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Childcare for a 4-year-old costs about $8,000 a year.
“We know that families are feeling that pinch now more than ever,” Gutierrez said. “I’ve felt it, our staff has felt it, and even regardless of resources to pay for childcare, finding it is very, very challenging.”
But the House, citing the lack of a long-term, continuous funding source for the scholarship program, stripped it from its version of the budget – a move that Gutierrez described as counter-intuitive.
Nearly 70% of nonworking or part-time working Ohio moms said they would return to work if they had access to high-quality, affordable childcare, a March survey by Groundwork Ohio found.
“The bridge to get them there and to get them off the sidelines and back in the game is childcare,” Gutierrez said.
With fewer than 13,000 childcare workers in Ohio – the lowest number since 1999, according to the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics – the state’s capacity to care for its youngest children is stretched too thin, Gutierrez said.
And it’s tough, she said, to recruit workers to an in-demand profession where the average pay is $12 an hour.
“Many of our childcare professionals, even though they love their work, have to leave (the field) to be able to provide for their family,” Gutierrez said. “They can’t justify not going down the street to Amazon or McDonald’s and making $15, $18-plus an hour.”
Allotting childcare providers – the “workforce behind the workforce,” as Gutierrez described – with grants to afford their own child’s services will help retain employees in the early education field while developing Ohio’s future workers.
In addition to critical-care scholarships, DeWine and the House both proposed expanding eligibility for publicly funded childcare to families earning up to 160% of the federal poverty level, up from the current 142% requirement.
Other allocations authored by the House include $30 million in general revenue funds to increase infant and early childhood development programs in rural Ohio communities with high infant mortality rates.
The Senate is expected to announce its budget at 3 p.m.