Commentary: We can end child poverty in Maryland
By Laura Weeldreyer
The writer is executive director of the Maryland Family Network.
Gov. Wes Moore’s moonshot pledge to end child poverty in Maryland is inspiring and hopeful. In addition to the governor’s proposed tax credits, there are legislative opportunities to achieve this important goal.
Maryland’s Child Care Scholarship program is one of those. Maryland child care costs continue to rise for both parents and providers. In fact, child care providers across the state have been closing their doors in record numbers. The Child Care Scholarship program makes it possible for thousands of young children to attend quality child care and start a trajectory for success in school and in life. Thanks to funding from the American Rescue Plan Act, Maryland was able to raise the income eligibility level so that families with up to 75% of state median income ($90,033 for a family of four) could qualify for a child care scholarship.
House Bill 495/Senate Bill 350 will protect these critical investments in child care. It can achieve this is several ways including guaranteeing Child Care Scholarship funding so that all eligible families can receive child care scholarships with no waiting lists. It will also maintain the income eligibility level so that families with up to 75% of state median income continue to qualify for a child care subsidy. Additionally the legislation will drastically reduce the parent co-pay, which for working families who are counting every dollar, means money stays in their pockets. Finally on the child care provider side, this legislation will keep the child care provider reimbursement rate at level that gives parents access to 70% of the programs in their communities.
Quality and affordable child care lifts children out of poverty. Not only does it allow their parents to be able to go to work and earn money for their family, but it also prepares children to succeed in life. Decades of research tells us that children who have access to high quality child care, are more likely to graduate high school, and go on to college, and earn more as adults. These children are also less likely to get involved with risky behaviors like crime or drug and alcohol misuse.
The Child Care Scholarship program is a life line to Maryland families. Polling by Maryland Family Network of 3,500 parents from across the state, found that 29% of parents are using high-interest pay day loans to cover the cost of care. Almost a third of parents must regularly borrow money from family and friends to pay for child care. Another 40% of parents are giving up healthy foods like fresh fruits and vegetables to pay for care. Disparities are even more stark for Spanish-speaking families who completed the survey: 50% reported that they are giving up prescription medicine, regular medical check-ups, dental work, and emergency medical procedures so they can afford child care and be able to go to work.
We all know a parent would give up anything to keep their child safe, happy, and learning. But they shouldn’t have to, especially when it means sacrificing their own health, their lives, or the wellbeing of their families to pay for what nearly every other wealthy nation has found a way to equitably provide for its citizens.
Let’s protect Maryland’s critical investments in child care. Maryland can be the state that wipes out child poverty.