(NEWSnet/AP) — One story involving families with young children has been repeated multiple times across the country:

Today's child care is unaffordable for many, hard to find for those who can pay, and financially precarious for day care operators and their employees.

The Biden administration and Congress tried to alleviate some of these problems after the pandemic crippled the child care industry. States have expanded free preschool and early education and helped more families pay for child care, making it low-cost or even free for many.

Now that a record $52.5 billion in federal relief runs out, some states are coming up with new solutions. Policymakers have come up with unique ways to pay for their plans, in hopes of permanent funding sources to keep programs sustainable.

They include:

  • Kentucky is incentivizing parents to become child care workers.
  • New Mexico has tapped into its petroleum revenue.
  • Washington state put a new tax on investment profits.

The decisions are coming in a bipartisan manner. While the largest investments in child care have come from Democrats, Republican state lawmakers across the country are embracing plans to support child care — citing the importance to the economy.

Kentucky

 

In 2023, Kentucky started a program to cover or reduce the cost of day care for parents who work in the child care industry. The program was meant to tackle two challenges at once. Policymakers hoped it would draw more workers into the child care industry, addressing a shortage. And they wanted to provide more low-cost child care for all families.

Now, more than a dozen states are considering or have already adopted policies modeled after the one in Kentucky, according to EdSurge, a publication that focuses on education. The program has helped the state's child care industry recruit workers who might otherwise be working in service jobs.

Delaney Griffin, 30, was working in a pizza restaurant last year and pondering her next move with her young family. Her child care costs consumed all but $100 of her biweekly check.

After learning about the child care benefit, she took a job in December with Baptist Health Child Development Center. She now pays about $5 a week. Her older child is in a preschool program.

“The free child care part was like the biggest reason that I actually got to start in child care,” Griffin said.

New Mexico

 

After she gave birth, Marisshia Sigala postponed plans to start her real estate career. She and her husband — a personal trainer — lived on one paycheck for about two years upon realizing the cost of child care would be out of reach if both were working.

Then, in 2022, New Mexico made child care free for nearly all the state’s families, amending the constitution to fund early childhood initiatives with money from leasing state land to oil and gas companies. Sigala and her husband qualify because they earn less than 400% of the federal poverty rate, currently about $120,000 a year for a family of four. Their child, Mateo is one of more than 21,000 children now benefitting from the subsidies.

Now Sigala, 32, is back at work.

“Being entrepreneurs, it’s a lot more challenging, and we have to rely on ourselves. We don’t have a paycheck coming in every week,” Sigala said. “It’s been a blessing for us.”

Expanding free child care for families is “making a difference for families in such a profound way," said Elizabeth Groginsky, New Mexico’s early childhood education secretary “It’s just a really incredible opportunity we have here,” she said.

Washington

 

Washington state is aiming to offer free preschool to all low-income families, and child care vouchers to all low- and moderate-income families by the end of the decade, along with high-quality care for infants and toddlers with developmental concerns.

The state is expanding its programs with help from a new 7% tax on profits made from residents’ financial investments — a levy intended to fall on wealthier people.

When Zaneta Billyzone-Jatta’s daughter Zakiah was born prematurely in 2021, her mother hired a nanny to watch the baby three days a week. A clinical manager for a hospital network, Billyzone-Jatta, 42, had to work while keeping an eye on her daughter the other two days.

She felt like she couldn’t give her child enough attention, much less address the girl’s developmental concerns like a professional could.

Through a state program for low-income families and kids with challenges, she now sends her daughter to a child care center near her Seattle-area home, free of cost. There, three teachers supervise seven children in Zakiah’s class and diligently document her progress. Occupational and speech therapists see Zakiah at the school and work closely with the teachers.

But the state program helping these families is still small, serving fewer than 200 kids statewide. And in November, Washington voters will cast ballots in a referendum that could repeal the tax that helps fund this project.

Follow NEWSnet on Facebook and X platform to get our headlines in your social feeds.

Copyright 2024 NEWSnet and The Associated Press. All rights reserved.