Connecticut Office of Early Childhood Commissioner Beth Bye hopes for the passage of the Build Back Better Act to help boost resources for child care in the state.
Bye said the state hopes the act will pass in Washington, D.C, providing Connecticut with $168 million in its first fiscal year and more in future years. The bill would give a total of approximately $700 million to the state over three years to help develop a quality early childhood system that would pay workers a fair wage, making a more financially attractive industry.
On Monday, Connecticut child care providers said the state requires more federal resources to help with the industry’s staffing problems, worsened by a COVID surge and overall labor shortage.
“We are definitely at a labor shortage and staffing crisis that really needs significant federal investment,” David Morgan, president and CEO of TEAM Inc., an anti-poverty agency that handles child care and other services, said in a virtual news conference with Democratic Governor Ned Lamont and other state officials. “We right now have a funding model that compromises fiscal solvency and sustainability of child care.”
Parents and families are unable to pay more for child care, Morgan said. He said that child care is necessary to allow the state’s economy to continue to rebound while more people return to work.
The state set aside a share of its COVID-19 relief funding to help support day care providers financially during the pandemic, money that Lamont said is expected to continue for another year. About a quarter of the funds was supposed to provide a boost in wages to workers, many of whom are leaving the industry for higher-paying jobs in the school systems and elsewhere.
Connecticut also used some of the COVID funds to train more day care providers, subsidize tuition to encourage more people to enter the profession and fund a pilot program that provides bonuses to workers with more education in hopes of encouraging them to remain in the profession.
At least 100 classrooms across Connecticut are currently closed due to workforce issues, according to Bye. The worker shortage has been exacerbated by a recent surge in COVID-19 infections, which has forced many day care workers to quarantine, even if they have no symptoms, in order to protect the children in their care.
“We work with children 5 and under, and they cannot be vaccinated,” said Monette Ferguson, executive director of the Alliance for Community Empowerment Inc. in Bridgeport, Connecticut. “We cannot continue to help our families get back to work unless we respect these protocols.”
Meanwhile, unlike many other states that lost as much as 10% of their day care slots during the pandemic, Bye said Connecticut lost less than 1%. She attributed that figure to the state’s financial assistance and Lamont’s decision to keep the child care facilities open.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.