Advocates to rally again for child care support as Legislature sets votes on budget

Child care advocates and providers plan rallies around Wisconsin Tuesday to reiterate their call for more child care support in the state budget before it goes to the floor of the Legislature.

Corrine Hendrickson, a New Glarus child care provider, said Monday that the message at the rallies will be to demand that lawmakers support the $340 million that Gov. Tony Evers had proposed in the state budget he submitted in February to extend a pandemic child care stabilization program for the next two years.

At a late-night Joint Finance Committee meeting Thursday, June 8, that went into the early morning of Friday, July 9, the committee’s Republican majority voted against including that proposal, which would have funded continuation of the Child Care Counts program through June 30, 2025.

Child Care Counts, originally implemented in the COVID-19 pandemic with federal pandemic relief funds, provided monthly grants to child care providers. According to the Evers administration, providers and advocates, the program helped maintain higher wages for child care workers while providers were able to avoid increasing tuition for families.

In a May report, the Wisconsin Policy Forum found that licensed child care in Milwaukee County cost $12,142 for a 4-year-old and $16,236 for an infant.

That amounts to 22% (for the 4-year-old) or nearly 30% (for the infant) of the annual median family income in the county, just under $55,000. That is more than three to four times what federal guidelines recommend for child care costs — 7% of family income, the Wisconsin Policy Forum report noted. 

Instead of continuing the Child Care Counts funding, the finance committee Republicans created a $15 million revolving fund to enable the start-up of new child care centers — a response advocates said ignored their inability to hire enough child care workers without more state support. The budget proposal also expanded access to the state’s Wisconsin Shares child care subsidy program for low-income families.

Hendrickson, who is one of the organizers of Wisconsin Early Childhood Action Needed (WECAN), an advocacy group for providers as well as families who rely on the child care services, said the core message at Tuesday’s rallies would be to reinstate the $340 million to fund Child Care Counts. 

Providers and families will speak at several of the events to talk about the impact that omitting the support could have, she said. WECAN is also organizing letter-writing campaigns to reach out to state legislators.

Hendrickson said she’s been told that Democratic lawmakers plan to introduce amendments to restore the funding when the Senate meets Wednesday and the Assembly meets later in the week to vote on the budget.

In the St. Croix County community of Baldwin, provider Allison Galloway is organizing a rally for 9 a.m. at Windmill Park. Galloway is a licensed family care provider — category for child care centers that provide care in the operator’s home for 8 or fewer children.

“I am one of four regulated child care [center operators] in my school district, and a lot of parents are already struggling to find care,” Galloway told the Wisconsin Examiner on Monday. Without continued Child Care Counts support, “I will either have to raise my tuition, which families will have a very hard time paying for their kids to attend [so they can go to] work, or I will lose about $3 an hour.”

Even if she raises her weekly cost to families, “I will need to cut things in my program along with things for my family,” she said.

Galloway said she hoped the message gets through to her area lawmakers, Sen. Rob Stafsholt (R-New Richmond) and Rep. Clint Moses (R-Menomonie), “that their district, along with 80% of Wisconsin voters, want [a Child Care Counts funding] amendment to pass to be able to have affordable child care.”

Providers are forecasting the loss of as many as 25% or more of the 4,400 child care facilities in Wisconsin without the continued support for the stabilization program. Where facilities remain, tuition could increase by $50 a week per child, according to surveys compiled by WECAN.

Tricia Peterson, who operates a child care center in the Dodge County community of Juneau, said that around the state 40 centers closed just in the first two weeks of June because of funding shortfalls, and that she has heard from people affiliated with two centers in the region that they plan to close because they could not keep going without the Child Care Counts support.

The lack of child care availability is one reason that employers in surrounding communities are unable to hire workers, Peterson said, “but no one wants to pinpoint that it’s happening [because of] child care.”

Hendrickson said Monday that some child care providers have already begun discussing the possibility of going on strike if the budget passes without the support that providers say they need. 

“We are just kind of talking about how, throughout history, nothing’s really changed unless it’s been forced to change,” Hendrickson said in an interview. “And one of the biggest ways that has happened is a strike.”

With child care workers leaving or prospective workers deciding not to take jobs in the field, “people are basically striking” already, she said. “So it’s like a slow strike.”

The idea of an organized action is under discussion, Hendrickson said. No concrete plans have been made, and if there is a formal walkout, it would be unlikely until providers and the state see what happens to the state budget after it reaches Evers’ desk. 

“But if we do it, we are also including the parents with us,” Hendrickson said. “The childcare world — we can leave. But it’s the parents that are going to be left with their kids and nowhere to go, and it’s their employers that are going to be left without employees.”

In the meantime, “in all of our meetings, we do discuss what it would look like if we did it, and how we can do it in a way that doesn’t harm the people who already harmed” — the parents and their children, she added.



originally published at https%3A%2F%2Fwisconsinexaminer.com%2F2023%2F06%2F27%2Fadvocates-to-rally-again-for-child-care-support-as-legislature-sets-votes-on-budget%2F by Erik Gunn

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