Maine childcare costs are at a crisis, according to activists and business leaders who say parents are forced to stop working as a result. Too many Mainers are leaving the workforce because of a lack of available, affordable childcare, costing the state’s economy hundreds of millions of dollars in lost productivity.
That’s according to business leaders and childcare activists, speaking in support of a bill aimed at helping parents and childcare providers.
Advocates, including Senate President Troy Jackson, hope that LD 1726, greenlit in a committee vote on Thursday, will help. The bill, Jackson said, will double the stipend paid by the state to childcare workers from $200 a month to $400.
It also widens the criteria for parents applying for state childcare assistance. Right now, the only parents who qualify are those making up to 85% of the state’s minimum wage. The bill will increase that to 125%.
“People will feel like they’re getting an incentive to stay in their jobs,” Jackson, the bill’s sponsor, said.
It will also base state assistance to childcare centers on enrollment, not attendance, so childcare providers won’t lose state assistance if enrolled children don’t show up.
Ready Nation, a national nonprofit workforce research and advocacy group, unveiled a new report Monday.
Quincy Hentzel, CEO of the Greater Portland Chamber of Commerce, said the average cost in Maine for infant childcare is $11,960 a year. That’s 8% more than in-state college tuition, she said.
“It’s not hard to imagine why families are having such a hard time paying for childcare,” she said.
Katherine Johnston, of Hallowell, knows how costly childcare can be. She had to leave her job as a policy analyst in Gov. Janet Mills’ office due to not being able to find childcare.
“I called everywhere, and begged and pleaded to get on waitlists, and there was nowhere,” she said.
Tony Payne, vice president of external affairs at Maine Employers’ Mutual Insurance Co., said one of the more startling findings in the report concerned the impact of the lack of childcare on the economy.
Nationally, he said, a study by ReadyNation four years ago found the lack of affordable childcare cost the national economy $57 billion in lost productivity. Today, he said, the new study found that number had ballooned to $122 billion.
In Maine, Payne said, that impact adds up to $403 million a year.
“That’s not good for the nation, and it sure isn’t good for Maine,” he said.