Child care could be more accessible and affordable in New Jersey if a slew of bills spearheaded by Senate Majority Leader Teresa Ruiz become law.
The bills, presented Tuesday just steps from the Senate floor, address the shortage and affordability of child care by establishing the Department of Early Childhood to focus on education and care up to age 5 and fund the expansion of infant and toddler seats by 1,000 in low – income areas.
They would also increase the use of private providers in child care services, increase tax credits for child care workers, offer tax incentives to employers who provide child care in their facilities and extend child care subsidies.
“This to me is a commonsense approach of where government should be stepping in, making sure we get the biggest bang for our buck,” Ruiz, D-Essex, said during the announcement. “We have to rewind, catch children much earlier, make sure that families in the state of New Jersey have access to high-quality, affordable child-care-setting programs and make sure that we recognize that academic outcomes for children really start in the womb.”
Co-sponsors Sens. Sandra Cunningham, D-Hudson, and Nilsa Cruz-Perez, D-Camden, as well as advocates and industry members, were on hand for the announcement. Sen Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, also a sponsor of the package, was unable to attend due to child care issues.
The package cost is estimated to be $350 million.
Ruiz is also behind the universal preschool initiative plan from several years ago.
The package of bills was lauded by child advocates.
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The pandemic didn’t cause the child care crisis, but rather exposed it, said Cecilia Zalkind, president of Advocates for Children of New Jersey. She noted that parents were struggling to find affordable care, programs were struggling to stay open and staff was underpaid and undervalued.
There are child care deserts in the state where there is no adequate care, and the child care infrastructure directly affects the economy because it prohibits people from entering the workforce, Zalkind said.
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“Today is an incredible day for families, for our child care industry and for the economy,” she said. “Our economy can’t survive without people being able to work, and parents can’t work without child care.”
The bills would provide tax relief for parents and tax incentives for programs, and would set requirements and guidance for care and education.
The nine bills are:
- S.2475 – Establishes the Department of Early Childhood to provide focused and integrated development of 0 to 5 care and education.
- S.2476 – Provides funding for the expansion of infant and toddler seats by 1,000, reimbursed at $22,000 per seat. The grant program would prioritize providers in communities identified as child care deserts, areas with a high percentage of low-income families, and those that align their child care centers with high-quality preschool.
- S.2477 – Requires new preschool programs or seat expansions to use private providers for at least 50% of their preschool slots.
- S.2478 – Extend the enrollment-based payment model currently set to expire on June 30, 2022. The bill would extend the program for three years, with a report on the impact at the end of this year and the end of the three years .
- S.2479 – Provide tax incentives to employers who provide child care in their facilities, reimburse parents for their child care expenses or contract with private providers so their employees can enroll their children in those child care programs.
- S.1099 Allow gross income tax credits for child care staff members who have been employed by a child care provider or worked as a registered family day care provider for a minimum of 1,260 hours for a six-month period during the taxable year.
- S.2480 – Extend child care subsidies to families earning up to 300% of the federal poverty line. Currently, families earning up to 250% are eligible.
- S.2465 – Require the Department of Human Services to establish a quality-based reimbursement system for registered family day care providers participating in Grow NJ Kids.
- SJR.79 – The resolution would designate the first full week of April as the “Week of the Young Child” in New Jersey to recognize the importance of high-quality early childhood education that is affordable and accessible.
The bills head for committee review and, if passed by both houses, will head to Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk for final approval.
Katie Sobko is a reporter in the New Jersey Statehouse. For unlimited access to your work covering New Jersey’s governor and political power structure, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.