Business leaders and industry advocates asked the Senate Finance Committee Thursday to reconsider its budget proposal to scale back lofty child care programs proposed by Gov. Mike DeWine and supported by the Ohio House — including an eligibility provision that could impact thousands of children across the state.
Most notably, the Senate scaled back DeWine’s effort to allow more families to access subsidized child care. Currently, only families within 142% of the federal poverty line qualify. The governor hoped to raise that to 160% at an estimated cost of $101 million per year. The House agreed. The Senate landed on 145%.
Lynanne Gutierrez, chief operating and policy officer for Groundwork Ohio, said only increasing eligibility to 145% will impact most of the estimated 15,000 new children that would have been able to access subsidized child care under the 160% rule.
Elsewhere in the budget, the Senate cut in half a House-proposed Child Care Infrastructure grant aimed at increasing capacity in child care centers across the state and restored the governor’s preschool funding proposal, eliminating a funding expansion floated by the House.
John Fortney, communications director for Senate Republicans, told the Dayton Daily News that most child care provisions at issue in the Senate budget would see fiscal increases, to varying degrees, compared to the current operating budget.
Gutierrez told Dayton Daily News that those small increases don’t meet increased industry costs.
DeWine made child care a core tenet of his proposed budget, unveiled just after his late-February State of the State address where he predicted that Ohio’s future will be “defined by how well we educate all our children and how we tear down the barriers to their success.”
DeWine noted that many Ohioans choose between working or staying home to care for children due to the excessive cost of child care. His budget proposed a new $150 million child care scholarship program using one-time federal funds and expanding eligibility for subsidized care as a way to intervene early, improve education outcomes and allow parents to return to the workforce.
DeWine’s proposals were largely endorsed by the House, even though the House and Senate removed his $150 million scholarship program.
In her Thursday testimony, Gutierrez argued that early childhood intervention through child care can boost kids’ school performances and cited Groundwork’s polling data, which found that 68% of mothers would go back to work if they had access to affordable child care.
This is also a concern of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce. On behalf of the Chamber, former Republican state Rep. Rick Carfagna characterized child care as “one of the biggest workforce dynamics of late” and urged the Senate to restore the governor’s expanded eligibility, reconsider his scholarship program, and work to increase capacity at child care centers throughout Ohio.
“Child care options throughout Ohio remain scarce and expensive,” Carfagna said, “(which is) one of the largest throttles holding back people from fully returning to the workforce.”
The Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce, which supported increased eligibility last budget cycle, told the Dayton Daily News that the organization would like to see the state take more steps toward expanded eligibility and access.
“We know that there are still far too many families, moms in particular, who are forced to choose between entering and/or staying in the workforce, and securing quality childcare for their families,” said Stephanie Keinath, vice president of strategic initiatives for the local chamber. “Affordable, high quality child care is a critical workforce issue that we must address as a state in order to ensure that employers can attract and retain the talent that they need to continue to grow Ohio’s economy.”
The Senate is expected to vote on their budget soon. After that, it will likely head to a joint committee where it will be deliberated by a select few representatives from the House and Senate before ultimately being signed into law by DeWine.