Working families need affordable, accessible child care
On March 15, Governor DeWine introduced his first state budget outlining his priorities for the state. In his State of the State speech earlier this month, DeWine argued that now is the time to invest in Ohio’s children and future. At Policy Matters Ohio, we agree. In order to create a more vibrant, equitable, sustainable and inclusive Ohio, we need to make strategic investments to support children, adults and families across the state.
More than 450,000 Ohio children experienced poverty in 2017, and over 8,200 babies have died before their first birthday since 2010. Our state ranks 42nd out of 50 in infant mortality for all babies and 49th for black babies. This is heartbreaking and unacceptable.
Premature birth is a primary cause of infant mortality. Babies are more likely to be premature when their mothers live in poverty, work long hours, are exposed to lead and pollution, and lack access to quality nutrition and medical care.
As my colleague Amanda Woodrum says, “Poverty is stressful. Chronic poverty is toxic.” She found that stress releases chemicals in the body that makes people sick. People who live in poverty are often constantly worried about making ends meet. In addition to facing barriers to housing, decent-paying jobs and good schools, people of color also experience stress from facing racism in day-to-day life.
One major source of stress for Ohio parents is the cost of child care. Many parents find themselves caught in the childcare trap: they don’t earn enough to comfortably afford it, but they can’t afford to stay home, either. In 2017, six of Ohio’s 10 most common jobs paid so little that a typical worker earned less than $26,000 and needed food assistance to feed a family of three. For parents at that income level, child care can cost up to half of their family income, which adds to their stress. On average, quality child care for a one-year-old in Ohio costs $14,400 a year.
Ohio’s publicly funded child care system excludes many working families. Only parents making less than $27,024 (130 percent of the 2018 federal poverty level for a family of three) can access public support for child care. Indiana is the only state that makes it harder to qualify for support.
During his campaign, DeWine pledged to raise the eligibility level for publicly funded child care programs for working families from 130 to 150 percent of the federal poverty level, expanding access to at least 20,000 more children. His proposed budget for 2020-2021 invests $99 million each year to improve Ohio’s child care system through the Step Up to Quality program, which is good news for kids and families.
The bad news is that the resources needed to accomplish expanding eligibility to families at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level are not included in the proposed budget. Last week, Kimberly Hall, the Director of Ohio Department of Job and Family Service, shared that over 119,000 children are currently enrolled in Ohio’s publicly funded child care program. The executive budget includes a goal of serving up to 125,000 children per month in fiscal year 2021, meaning the number of new children served is projected to be roughly 6,000 – which falls short of DeWine’s campaign pledge of 20,000. It’s unclear how Ohio will expand access and eligibility with no new state investments in child care and early care and education.
Far too many Ohio families struggle with the high cost of child care. A high-quality child care system is needed. We also need a caring, nurturing environment for our kids and work supports for struggling families. Lavish tax cuts for the wealthiest taxpayers and corporations are preventing the state from responding to the needs of Ohioans. We need to make significant long-term investments, so all families at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level get the support they need. This would enable more parents to participate in the workforce and provide more kids with early learning opportunities.
Research shows that quality child care and preschool programs lead to increased school and career achievement and reduced public costs for the health and criminal justice systems. High quality pre-k helps ensure that kids start school ready to learn and grow. Expanding preschool and child care can generate an economic return of up to $6.30 for every $1 invested.
As state budget negotiations continue over the next three months, lawmakers in the Ohio House and Senate have an opportunity to improve the quality of life of children and families and support parents’ participation in Ohio’s economy. By increasing state support for public child care, pre-k and early learning programs, we can alleviate stress on working families and improve educational and economic outcomes for children.
To accomplish this needed expansion and strengthen the program, Ohio lawmakers need to raise stable, long-term revenue. Continued tax cuts for corporations and the wealthiest Ohioans have limited our ability to invest in the future.
Together, we can ensure kids are prepared to succeed while helping families across the state to thrive. As Governor DeWine said: Now is the time to invest in Ohio’s children and families.
This work was made possible by support from the Women’s Fund of Central Ohio.