When I was a single mother struggling to make ends meet in the North End of Burlington in the 1980s, the high cost of child care was one of the greatest obstacles I faced in becoming self-sufficient. Because of those high costs, I often was forced to rely on my parents to help me feed my young son.
Young families face even greater challenges today, as the high cost of child care consumes a greater share of income for many families. A family of four with an income of $35,000 can spend as much as $1,600 per month in child care expenses. That is an enormous hardship that makes it difficult to pay for basic living expenses, and it prevents many young adults from working.
As the largest provider of child care services in Vermont, we at the YMCA understand these challenges as well as anyone. We serve approximately 1,000 children each year in high-quality programs around the state. We provide nearly $500,000 in subsidies for families that don’t qualify for state support, or those that qualify for too little support. But those funds are not nearly enough to meet the needs of our state’s children.
Gov. Peter Shumlin has proposed an increase of $16.7 million for child care subsidies, which would go a long way toward improving the affordability of care for many families. Most eligible families would see an increased benefit, and an estimated 1,200 new children, and 900 new families, would become eligible for subsidies.
Unfortunately, the House Appropriations Committee approved only $3.3 million of the governor’s proposed increase. That is not enough to make meaningful progress toward the goal of affordable child care for everyone.
Shumlin has proposed to fund all of the subsidy increase through a transfer of funds from the state’s earned-income tax credit. That proposal has been criticized by some legislators who do not want to reduce EITC funding.
The EITC is an important program for many low-wage workers. But it has grown by 45 percent since 2004, a much higher rate of growth than child care subsidies. Our EITC program is the second-most generous program in the country. Combined with the federal EITC, the governor’s proposal would reduce benefits by 15 percent.
Some have suggested that we should not pit one low-income program against another. But our state budget makes choices every year between a wide range of state-funded programs.
A decision not to alter the EITC program, and to provide only $3.3 million in new funds for child care subsidies, reflects a choice that low-income families are better served by the tax credit program. I believe that choice is misplaced.
When I was struggling to make ends meet as a young single mom and student, I appreciated receiving an annual EITC check. It enabled me to pay for things that I couldn’t otherwise afford. I would have been much better off, however, if that money had gone to reduce my child care expenses. That would have helped me meet my monthly expenses — something the EITC could not do.
As important as the EITC is to low-wage workers, the needs of young children and families should come first.
Mary Burns is president of the Greater Burlington YMCA.
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