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June 5, 2023

Maine group renews plea for affordable child care

Woman with small child in child care center File photo A report released Monday shows the economic impact of the lack of infant and child care in Maine. Shown here is Mano en Mano's Rayitos de Sol, which provides bilingual child care in Washington County.

An influential group of Maine business leaders is urging state lawmakers to boost pay for child care workers and expand public pre-K in order to ease strains on working parents that are a drag on the whole economy.

The recommendations are in a report released Monday by ReadyNation, whose members are 2,000 business executives, including 100 in Maine.

ReadyNation, part of a bipartisan nonprofit organization called Council for a Strong America, aims to build a skilled workforce by promoting solutions for children to succeed in education, work and life.

The eight-page report on Maine puts the annual cost of the lack of infant and toddler care in the state at $403 million, or more than double the 2019 estimate of $180 million a year. 

Factored into the cost estimate are lost wages for parents, reduced revenue and higher hiring costs for employers, and a higher burden on taxpayers due to lower tax revenues in state coffers.

Quincy Hentzel of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce
File photo / Tim Greenway
Quincy Hentzel

“ReadyNation’s $403 million annual impact estimate doesn’t surprise me. In fact, the real cost of our child care crisis is higher,” said Quincy Hentzel, CEO of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce and a member of ReadyNation.

“The estimate only gauges impacts for infants and toddlers, and we all know that there’s a greater need for child care than just for children from birth to [age] 3. It’s another clarion call for action to strengthen the child care system," added Hentzel, who was honored as a Mainebiz Woman to Watch in 2021.

Representing Portland-based workers' compensation provider MEMIC, fellow ReadyNation member Tony Payne said the child care problem is growing "at an alarming rate."

Call for 'wise investments'

Monday's report, released in a Portland child care classroom that is closed because of a staff shortage,  argues that the state needs to support evidence-based policies and programs that enhance the availability and affordability of high-quality child care.

“In particular, Maine needs to increase compensation for the child care workforce, continue to expand public pre-K, expand eligibility for child care subsidies and Head Start/Early Head Start, improve data collection and examine the true cost of care, all of which will support quality improvements,” the report says. “With wise investments, policymakers can improve life outcomes for thousands of Maine children today and strengthen our state’s workforce and economy both now and in the years to come.”

The report also notes that Maine child care programs serve 9,422 fewer children than they are licensed to serve due to a lack of staff, and estimates that Maine needs an additional 1,090 teachers to fill the gap. Researchers also estimate that 5,000 Maine infants lack access to caregivers. 

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