TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Joe Vitale, Senate Majority Leader M. Teresa Ruiz and Senator Renee Burgess meant to shore up child care infrastructure, recruit and retain a quality workforce, and also offer incentives by for employers who wish to help bear the cost burden of these vital services cleared the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee.
The first bill, S-3868, sponsored by Senators Vitale and Ruiz, would provide categorical eligibility for child care subsidies to qualifying employees of licensed child care centers or registered family child care providers, regardless of the qualifying employee’s annual income.
Provision for this new eligibility for child care services would come through the State’s subsidized child care assistance program for “qualifying child care workers,” regardless of the individual’s annual family income. A qualifying worker would be defined as an educator or staff member who is employed by a licensed child care center or a registered family child care provider for a minimum of 20 hours per week.
“Sustaining our child care infrastructure is an ongoing challenge that requires experienced, well-trained child care workers at every stage and particularly for the youngest of the young,” said Senator Vitale (D-Middlesex), Chair of the Health Committee. “While the costs of child care have kept going up for New Jersey families, child care center employees remain some of the lowest-paid workers in the nation.
“Helping these workers meet the financial burden of child care for their own children, by opening up subsidy eligibility for these employees as a “protected population,” is a forward-thinking public health policy that will help us recruit and retain a highly-trained and robust workforce.”
The bill is modeled after a similar policy implemented in Kentucky in 2022, which was supported by funds awarded from the American Rescue Plan.
The average cost for infant care in New Jersey is estimated by one report to be at $1,082 per month, while the average for a child is reportedly $905 per month. The median hourly wage for childcare workers in the United States was $13.71 in May 2022.
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The second bill, S-4005, would establish an employer-based child care assistance partnership program in the Department of Children and Families (DCF), as a way of incentivizing employers to contribute to employee child care so as to better ensure that the state’s working parents and their children have access to affordable, high-quality child care services.
“One of the primary barriers for parents seeking to enter the workforce is a lack of access to affordable child care,” said Senator Burgess (D-Essex). “This lack of access is particularly acute among working women, who, though representing less than half the nation’s workforce, accounted for a majority of the decrease in labor force during the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Companies who participate in bearing some of the child care costs for their workers through this shared plan, will not only help more workers access those services, but help them to strengthen and maintain a high-quality employee roster.”
Participation in the program would be voluntary, and the DCF would be tasked with regulating and overseeing the activities associated with the program.
According to McKinsey’s American Opportunity Survey, an online survey that was released in May, 2021, only 39 percent of respondents who had incomes below $50,000 and children at home said they could afford child care.
The bills, S-3868, and S-4005, was released from committee by votes, respectively, of 6-1 and 7-0.