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Top Maine lawmakers seek funding to boost child care wages

Senate President Troy Jackson on Tuesday said boosting pay to bolster child care needs to be a priority for the Legislature this session.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine employers say many of their workers face significant problems finding good, affordable child care. 

The two top leaders of the Maine Legislature say they want to fix that. Both Speaker of the House Rep. Ryan Fecteau and Senate President Troy Jackson are sponsoring bills this year to find some answers to the fundamental problem of too many families unable to find affordable, quality child care.

On Tuesday, lawmakers were told it may take added state tax dollars to fix the basic problem: too many workers leaving the child care profession because of low pay. 

“We know child care providers need to be paid more and we know we can’t balance the books on the back of working families,” said Speaker Fecteau, in remarks to a Legislative committee for his bill. It would require several state agencies to focus more attention on training and scholarship help to recruit and prepare new workers, and would provide state funding to supplement workers’ pay.

Heather Marden, a child care worker who is also policy director for the Maine Association for Education of Young Children, said chronic low pay is driving many current workers away and discouraging others from taking jobs, thus making the shortage of affordable care more acute.

“This a low paying job. In Maine the average wage for a child care educator is a $12.89 per hour, just a little over minimum wage,” said Marden. 

Fecteau’s bill would allocate $4.5 million per year to supplement those wages, starting in 2024. That delay is because Maine DHHS recently announced it will use $28 million of federal COVID relief funds for a similar purpose for the next two years. Fecteau says his plan is to have money continue once the federal funds are used up. He says the primary goal is to reduce the number of workers leaving those jobs.

“And that’s what we want to prevent with this bill, we just can’t continue to lose folks in this sector and can’t afford not to attract new people as well.”

The Maine Department of Health and Human Services, in written comments for the committee, said Fecteau’s bill should be delayed two years, to give time to study the impacts of the wage supplements DHHS will use. The agency suggested Fecteau’s proposal doesn’t provide nearly enough money for the purpose. The statement said even with the $28 million over two years, that would only provide a supplement of a little over $100 per month for each worker. 

Rep. Fecteau said he believes even the reduced amount would help, and that its important to have funding in place to assure workers state support will continue.

Jackson on Tuesday said boosting pay to bolster child care needs to be a priority for the Legislature this session as it decides how to allocate hundreds of millions of dollars in remaining funds for this year and next.

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