Child care workers on virtual strike

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(Host) Child care providers are staging a “virtual strike” across Vermont for the rest of the week.

They say they want to highlight the importance of quality child care to the state’s economy – and how much families struggle to pay for it.

VPR’s Ross Sneyd reports.

(Sneyd) This isn’t a typical strike. No one’s walking off the job. This is more about making a political statement.

And it’s this: If it weren’t for child care, Vermont’s economy would grind to a halt.

27,000 parents, child care workers and their supporters are wearing green, purple and blue buttons on their lapels with a couple of simple messages.

Some say, “This employee made possible by child care.” Others declare: “Support Vermont’s Economy, Support Quality Child Care.”

(Riegel-Garrett) "Child care really provides a support to all of the other businesses across the state.”

(Sneyd) Melissa Riegel-Garett is executive director of the Vermont Association for the Education of Young Children.

(Riegel-Garrett) "There are thousands of Vermonters that wouldn’t be able to work if they didn’t have child care. And issues like not being able to find child care or being concerned about their children maybe because they can’t afford a quality child care setting, really means that Vermonters struggle and it impacts their ability to be a strong member of the work force.”

(Sneyd) Seventy percent of Vermont children are either in pre-school-age child care or in an afternoon program for school-age kids.

Advocates say if it weren’t for child care, thousands of parents would not be able to work and Vermont’s economy would suffer.

But the problem for those parents is the cost of care. Depending on where a family lives and the age of their children, care can cost $150 to $200 a week per child.

Riegel-Garrett says a family with two kids could be paying $18,000 a year.

(Riegel-Garrett) "It rivals in the family budget the cost of housing. … You could almost equate it to the cost of tuition to a college. So these are real significant costs for folks.”

(Sneyd) The state and federal governments try to help by subsidizing child care for some families.

But advocates say eligibility for subsidies is based on eight-year-old poverty rates. For a single parent with two children, full subsidies are available for anyone earning $14,000 or less. A parent earning up to $28,000 gets a partial subsidy.

Steve Dale is the commissioner of the state’s Department of Children and Families and he empathizes. But he says it would cost $16 million to catch up to current poverty guidelines and state government probably can’t afford it right now.

(Dale) "This is a tough one … – to me it’s the most critical issue here – because there are folks who absolutely need assistance, particularly to be able to go to work, who need the extra assistance to pay for child care, which is probably their single greatest expense, particularly if you have more than one child.”

(Sneyd) Advocates say they know there are a lot of demands on the state budget. But they say there are just as many demands on the family budget and helping parents cope is critical to the state’s economy.

So they plan to ask candidates running for legislative and statewide offices this fall whether they’d support boosting the amount of those subsidies.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd. 

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