This op-ed was originally published in the Central Maine paper here.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Krysta West is the Deputy Director of the Maine Forest Products Council represents more than 300 members from all sectors of the forest products industry including landowners, foresters, loggers, truckers, paper mills, sawmills, secondary manufactures and more.
Nate Cloutier is the Director of Government Affairs for HospitalityMaine. HospitalityMaine represents more than 1,200 restaurants and lodging establishments.
One common sight in any Maine town these days is a “Help Wanted” sign. For our industries and others, the greatest barrier we face today is the lack of available workforce and low workforce participation. These issues are especially challenging for rural businesses where the services required to support a robust workforce are lacking.
One major gap in service is available and affordable child care. Without safe and local options, parents are faced with the tough choice of securing employment and picking up shifts or caring for children.
These challenges are not unique to our industry or state. According to a recent report by ReadyNation, the child care shortage is costing the United States $122 billion in lost earnings, productivity and revenue each year. The report also found that 85% of parents indicated that problems with child care hurt their work effort or their time availability for work. 20% of those surveyed reported that they had to exit the labor market due to childcare challenges and more than 1/3 reported that inadequate child care restricts their career options, causing them to turn down important opportunities such as job offers, education or work-related training.
Unfortunately, these challenges have only become tougher since the pandemic, which caused a significant number of childcare facilities to close and providers to permanently leave the industry.
Some larger employers are taking a proactive approach by working to open new facilities in underserved communities or secure spaces at existing daycare providers. To support this trend, and hopefully enable employers of all sizes to address this pressing issue, we have formed a diverse coalition this session to support a bipartisan bill, L.D. 1222, “An Act to Expand Child Care Services Through an Employer-supported Tax Credit.” Our coalition includes the Maine Forest Products Council, HospitalityMaine, the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, Maine Association of Nonprofit, the YMCA and others.
As drafted, L.D. 1222 is a win-win-win. It would help families afford child care, help employers recruit and retain qualified workers and help providers leverage a stable funding mechanism by establishing a refundable tax credit for employers that pay or provide in-kind resources for care of the children of its employees. The amount of the annual credit would be 50% of the amount expended, with a cap of $3,000 per child.
By design, this bill would make child care affordable for more working families by encouraging employers of all sizes to share the cost of child care services with their employees, and it would provide a meaningful tax incentive that splits that cost between the State and the employer.
While we are confident that this bill would create many opportunities for workers and employers, there is also a shortage of child care workforce that needs to be addressed. There are currently 1,100 additional child care educators needed to meet the current licensing capacity. We can build facilities, reserve slots and help make these services affordable to employees, but these efforts depend on the availability of child care providers, which has also been a real challenge both in Maine and nationally.
For that reason, we are also supportive of the inclusion of additional funding to expand pre-K and continue salary supplements of $200 for child care workers in the recently approved state budget, and are encouraged by efforts to do more to support child care providers. Despite training, credentials and degrees, child care providers earn far less than their K-12 peers, and parents can’t afford to pay more for care to support necessary salary increases.
Together, we are hopeful that these initiatives will address the major three issues impacting child care availability for Maine’s workforce: Availability of care, affordability of care and child care workforce recruitment/retention.
In order for our industries, and all sectors of Maine’s economy to thrive, state government and employers must join together to tackle the real issue of child care shortages head-on. L.D. 1222 would accomplish just that.