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July 7, 2021

Bill to expand, improve child care access in Maine heads to governor's desk

A bill that aims to expand and improve child care access in Maine now heads to the desk of Gov. Janet Mills after approval by state lawmakers in Augusta last week.

Mills has a 10-day window, until July 13, to sign or veto the bill or let it become law without her signature. In the meantime, the statewide Right from the Start Coalition of nearly 50 organizations welcomed the bill's passage. The coalition, formed in 2016, is made up of groups from around the state working to ensure that all Maine children have equal opportunity for healthy development.

L.D. 1712, "An Act To Support Children's Healthy Development and School Success," aims to expand access to quality, affordable child care by investing in health care providers and working with communities to open slots in existing child care programs through the First 4 ME program administered by the Department of Health and Human Services. The bill was sponsored by Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Aroostook. 

Members of the Right from the Start Coalition include the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, the Maine Children's Alliance and the YMCA Alliance of Northern New England.

After last week's vote, the group said it looks forward to implementation of the First 4 ME program and is ready to support any needed steps to aid that effort.

Maine State Chamber of Commerce President Dana Connors supports the program as both a method to remove a workforce barrier and for the benefit of children. 

Portrait of Dana Connors
Courtesy / Maine State Chamber of Commerce
Maine State Chamber of Commerce President Dana Connors

“Education is a critical investment in Maine people and in our economy and should be treated as such, through a coordinated approach starting with our youngest children," he said in a news release.

"High quality early learning, like this program, helps Maine’s youngest learners build the social, emotional and cognitive foundations they need to arrive at Kindergarten ready to succeed. This proposal is an important first step and merits state investments.”

Meg Helming, director of advocacy and impact for the YMCA Alliance of Northern New England, added, “We view a critical component of a successful childcare system to be collaboration amongst childcare providers and other community organizations to serve Maine families ... We believe that with strong collaboration within our communities, we can alleviate some of the significant pressures on Maine families and childcare providers."

According to the coalition, 70% of all Maine children younger than 6 live in families where all available parents are working and thus need access to quality, affordable child care.

At the same time, more than one in five Maine children live in a so-called "child care desert," where for every three kids in need of child care, there is only one available slot. The number is higher in rural parts of the state.

The group also notes that in 2020, there were 21 fewer child care centers and 65 fewer family child care programs than the previous year, and cited a survey in which two-thirds of Maine child care providers said they did not get enough financial relief to make ends meet. 

"This new legislation addresses access and affordability," the group said. "It will replicate a successful program in Somerset County, modeled after the successful Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership. Under this proposal, Maine can create five additional programs across the state, which would engage coalitions of stakeholders within the communities that the projects serve."

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