RIght from the Start is a legislative and budget campaign to advance state policies for young children and their families in Rhode Island. During the COVID-19 crisis, it has become even more clear that policies and programs that help families with young children are essential for a strong economy and public health. Investments now will help our state and Rhode Island’s young children and families weather this crisis and emerge stronger on the other side.
In a recent interview with WPRI 12 Newsmakers, Senate President Dominick Ruggerio said that investing in affordable child care is a top priority to help working families and Rhode Island’s economy. Thank you Senate President and the Rhode Island Senate for your leadership on this critical issue. Just like roads and bridges, child care gets people to work! #ChildCareIsEssential
Dear RIght from the Start supporters:
The 2021 legislative session has concluded and the FY22 state budget is final. Thanks to your advocacy we have made some significant progress in advancing state policies and budgets to help young children, but we still have a long way to go.
Advocacy with our Rhode Island congressional delegation is absolutely critical this summer so we can secure as much funding for kids and families as possible, particularly to improve access to high-quality, affordable child care and Pre-K/Head Start, and to ensure all families have access to paid family leave to take care of a new baby/child or seriously ill family member. Our congressional delegation is essential to negotiating the final federal policy package so that families in Rhode Island and across the US have what they need to raise happy and healthy children right from the start.
Please take a moment today and click this link to send a message to our congressional delegation about the need for more investments in child care and preschool.
Thank you to the General Assembly, Governor, and advocates across the state for moving the RIght from the Start priorities forward this year.
RIght from the Start
RIght Start FY22 Budget & 2021 Legislative Priorities Final Results
Child Care Assistance Program: Total funding for the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) is budgeted at $74.2 million in the FY22 budget which is the highest funding level since 2006. However, state general revenue funding for child care was actually cut from $9 million to $8.7 million.
- RI Child Care is Essential advocates won a permanent cap on family copayments to meet the federal affordability guideline of 7% of family income. This cap will help improve affordability of child care for families receiving a CCAP subsidy and will help providers who often struggle to collect copayments from families required to make copayments that were up to twice the federal affordability guideline.
- Advocates won a statutory continuation of the current pandemic rates through December 31, 2021.
- RI Child Care is Essential advocates won increases in the new statutory rates paid to child care providers serving low-income children. These new rates will go into effect as of January 1, 2022 and are significantly higher than the Governor’s original proposal, including tiered quality rates for school-age children ages 6 to 12 who were omitted from the original budget proposed. All of the rates are higher than the original Governor’s proposal, and in some cases, the new statutory rates are higher than the current pandemic rates. In other cases, the rates are significantly lower than the current pandemic rates. See this rate chart with details on current pandemic rates to be continued through December 31, 2021 and new rates to start January 1, 2022.
- The FY22 final budget allocates $200,000 for a one-year pilot program so low-income college students can access the Child Care Assistance Program to help cover child care costs.
RI Pre-K and State Funded Head Start: The final FY22 budget provides level state funding, $14.9 million for RI Pre-K for four-year-olds and $1.2 million for Head Start for three- and four-year-olds. The 22 new RI Pre-K classrooms added for 2021-2022 and the 17 new RI Pre-K classrooms added in 2020-2021 are being funded with federal grants, including the PDG Birth to Five grant and the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund.
Family Home Visiting: Advocates won $1.6 million in additional Medicaid funding for family home visiting, authorized prenatal visits for the First Connections program, and Medicaid funding for evidence-based family home visiting programs managed by the Department of Health (Healthy Families America, Nurse-Family Partnership, and Parents as Teachers).
Medicaid and Commercial Health Insurance Coverage for Perinatal Doula Services: Advocates won Medicaid and commercial health insurance coverage for perinatal doula services. The FY22 budget estimates $400K for the coverage, but funding is not capped. A separate bill passed that requires commercial health insurance providers in Rhode Island to cover perinatal doula services beginning July 1, 2022.
Paid Family Leave: Advocates won additional weeks for parents to care for new babies, foster, and adoptive children and for all workers to care for seriously ill family members. Legislation passed that expands Rhode Island’s paid family leave program (Temporary Caregivers Insurance) to 5 weeks beginning in January 2022 and 6 weeks beginning in January 2023, from the existing 4 weeks that was established when the program began in 2014.
Affordable, High-Quality Child Care: We intend to keep fighting for rate increases to meet federal standards and help programs provide quality care and increase wages of child care educators (particularly as minimum wage increases go into effect in January 2022, when many CCAP rates will be reduced from the current pandemic rate levels). We also intend to continue our fight to expand eligibility so more families have help paying for child care and we return CCAP enrollment to levels from 2003.
Early Educator Wages: The RI Early Educator Investment Act passed the Senate and we are hopeful the House will take a vote on this bill during a potential Fall 2021 session. This bill requires the state to set goals to increase compensation of early educators. We are also working to secure funding for a statewide child care wage supplement pilot project.
Paid Family Leave: We intend to continue fighting to increase our lowest-in-the-nation wage replacement rates for paid family leave so low-wage workers, many of whom are people of color, can afford to take paid leave when they have a new baby and to extend coverage to at least 12 weeks.
Postpartum Medicaid Extension: A bill that permanently extends Medicaid coverage for moms to 12 months postpartum (instead of 60 days) passed the Senate, but did not pass the House. We intend to continue fighting for permanent postpartum Medicaid extension in Rhode Island. Currently, states are required to provide continuous coverage to Medicaid enrollees through the COVID-19 public health emergency and receive enhanced federal matching funds under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
Revenue for Rhode Island: New, sustainable state general revenue is needed to adequately fund essential services for families with young children, including health care, child care, and early education. We will support equitable strategies to increase state revenue.
Federal Advocacy: Members of Congress are crafting federal spending packages this summer. Early childhood programs in Rhode Island are highly dependent on federal funding. Please reach out to your elected members of Congress right now to ask them for bold investments in programs that help young children thrive.
Take Action for Babies: https://www.thinkbabies.org/take-action-fy22-appropriations/
Take Action for Child Care and Preschool: https://fyff.quorum.us/action_center/
The House Finance Committee passed a proposed FY22 state budget on June 17th. Here is a summary of what is included, excluded, next steps, and the status of RIght Start Agenda legislation pending before the General Assembly.
Child Care Assistance Program: Total funding for the Child Care Assistance Program FY 22 budget is not clear at this point, but there are several systemic improvements in statute for reimbursement rates and a plan to cap family copayments at the federal affordability standard.The House Finance Committee proposal for FY22:
- Continues the current pandemic reimbursement rates paid to child care providers serving low-income children through December 31, 2021.
- Implements new statutory tiered rates paid to child care providers serving low-income children as of January 1, 2022 to include afterschool and summer program rates for school-age children ages 6 to 12 who were omitted from the original budget proposed by the Governor. All of the rates are higher than the original Governor’s proposal, and in some cases, the new statutory rates are higher than the current pandemic rates. In other cases, the rates are significantly lower than the current pandemic rates. See this linked rate chart with details on current pandemic rates to be continued through December 31, 2021 and new rates proposed by the House Finance Committee to start January 1, 2022.
- Caps family copayments at the federal affordability limit so that no family in the Child Care Assistance Program has copayments higher than 7% of family income.
- Allocates $200,000 for a one-year pilot program so low-income college students can access the Child Care Assistance Program to help cover child care costs.
RI Pre-K and State Funded Head Start: The House Finance Committee agrees with the Governor’s proposal to level fund RI Pre-K for four-year-olds with $14.9 million in state funding. New RI Pre-K classrooms added in 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 are being funded with federal grants, including the PDG Birth to Five grant and the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund.
The House Finance Committee agrees with the Governor’s proposal to provide level funding of $1.2 million for state-funded Head Start slots for three- and four-year-olds.
Family Home Visiting: The House Finance Committee agrees with the Governor’s proposal to include $1.6 million in additional Medicaid funding ($700K of which is new state General Revenue spending) to authorize prenatal visits for the First Connections program and fund evidence-based family home visiting programs managed by the Department of Health (Healthy Families America, Nurse-Family Partnership, and Parents as Teachers).
Medicaid Coverage for Perinatal Doula Services: The House Finance Committee agrees with the Governor’s proposal to authorize Medicaid coverage for perinatal doula services, budgeting $400K in FY22 for the new coverage.
Status of RIght Start Agenda Legislation
RI Child Care is Essential Act(H-5672 / S-378): We are hopeful that the General Assembly will amend these bills to include statutory changes connected to the FY22 budget plan for the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) and pass a revised bill in the House and Senate. We intend to keep fighting for additional rate increases to help programs increase wages of child care educators (particularly as minimum wage requirements go into effect) and deliver high-quality educational services. We also intend to continue our fight to expand eligibility so more families have help paying for child care and we return CCAP enrollment to levels from 2007.
RI Early Educator Investment Act (H-5158 / S-66): This bill has passed the full Senate and we are hopeful the House will pass the companion bill to require the state to set goals to increase compensation of early educators, many of whom are women of color making very low wages.
Paid Family Leave – Temporary Caregivers Insurance (H-5789 / S-436): An alternative bill has passed the senate (S-688) to extend the state’s paid family leave program from 4 weeks to 8 weeks without changing wage replacement rates On the House side, an amendment has been introduced to a similar alternate bill (H-6090) which would proposes to extend the state’s paid family leave program to 6 weeks without changing wage replacement rates. We are hopeful that the General Assembly will pass the Senate version of the bill (8 weeks) and we intend to continue fighting to increase our lowest-in-the-nation wage replacement rates for paid family leave so low-wage workers, many of whom are people of color, can afford to take paid leave when they have a new baby.
Perinatal Doula Services (H-5929 / S-484): This bill has passed the full Senate and we are hopeful the House will pass the companion bill to require commercial health insurance coverage of perinatal doula services. As noted above, Medicaid coverage for perinatal doula services is included in the state budget. About 50% of births in Rhode Island are covered by Medicaid.
Postpartum Medicaid Extension (H-6075, S-430): This bill has passed the full Senate and we are hopeful the House will pass the companion bill that extends Medicaid coverage for moms to 12 months postpartum (instead of 60 days) to provide consistent access to critical health care for new moms.
Low Pay and High Turnover is Challenging for Kids, Parents, and Child Care Programs
Alyssa Nichol is the mother of two young children, and currently stationed at Navy Station Newport as a Navy JAG (Judge Advocate General). Having been active duty for ten years, Alyssa is used to relocating, and quickly adapting in new communities. “Most military families move often and depend on access to community-based child care,” said Alyssa. “ We don’t have long-term family or friends nearby to help with our kids, and taking a break from the workforce isn’t really an option. We really depend on consistent access to stable child care.”
Sandpipers Early Learning Center in Middletown was able to immediately enroll Alyssa’s daughters when she relocated to Rhode Island, and she’s been thrilled with the program. “Whenever I’m working, I know my girls are loved, thriving, learning, and socializing. I’m incredibly grateful to have that peace of mind,” she said.
Alyssa says her daughters’ teachers are a key part of the support system they’ve found in Rhode Island, but she worries that child care providers are not equipped to survive under the current funding model because family tuition payments and government subsidies for low-income families are not sufficient to pay teachers decent wages. “All the teachers at Sandpipers are incredible, and pour their heart and soul into their jobs,” said Alyssa. “Unfortunately, my daughter’s previous teacher had to leave for a better-paying career path, even though she loved teaching and was highly qualified. She couldn’t afford to stay in a job that doesn’t typically pay a living wage.”
Alyssa worries that early learning centers can’t attract and retain enough highly qualified teachers because they can’t survive on the low wages that are standard for the child care field (an average of $12/hour in Rhode Island). She believes that child care centers, teachers, and students deserve stability, and encourages Rhode Island General Assembly members to support The Child Care is Essential Act to ensure that funding is in place to support the child care industry as a crucial element of economic stability.
Supporting RI Families with Children Ages Zero to Three
Pawtucket resident Wilmaris Soto-Ramos and her partner Stephen welcomed their rainbow baby in October of 2020, after experiencing the heartbreak of two consecutive second-trimester losses and the stress and isolation of pregnancy during a pandemic. Wilmaris’s challenging journey to motherhood, as well as the research she’s done as a new mom, inspired her to become a parent advocate.
“It’s crucial that we improve policies that protect and support new parents, who desperately need time to heal and bond with their child,” said Wilmaris. “When you become a new parent, you face a series of challenges, from becoming aware of your birthing and paid leave options, to thinking about child care and returning to the workforce.”
When they began to look for child care for their daughter, Wilmaris and Stephen quickly realized that affordability would be a deciding factor in their choice. “Even with two household incomes, high-quality child care is just not affordable for most working families in Rhode Island,” said Wilmaris. “We’ve had to rely on family support because child care is simply too expensive for us at this time.”
Wilmaris and her family were selected to represent Rhode Island as part of the 2021 National Strolling Thunder campaign and were able to meet virtually with their elected congressional representatives in Washington DC (Senator Jack Reed, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, and Congressman David Cicilline) to introduce one of their youngest constituents, baby Amarie. Wilmaris shared their personal experiences as a family with a child under the age of three and advocated for federal funding and policies to help families with young children, including support for the American Family Plan.
Wilmaris believes that Rhode Island’s child care system must be updated to meet the needs of young families. “We need to ensure that child care and early learning programs have the funding they need to provide high-quality services and to recruit and retain excellent early educators,” said Wilmaris. “This will allow more families to access the benefits of child care so they can continue to work while their children are cared for in high-quality settings.”
Wilmaris strongly urges General Assembly leaders to support the Rhode Island Child Care is Essential Act, and to use federal and state funding to make permanent increases to the child care reimbursement rates. This legislation is necessary so more families can access affordable, high-quality child care, allowing parents to work while their children grow, learn, and thrive.
High-Quality Programs Still Struggle to Retain Staff and Keep Doors Open
Sisters Minerva Waldron and Veronica Manfredi are co-owners of Over the Rainbow, a family-owned child care program with locations in Providence and Johnston. Before the pandemic, their centers always had at least 20 families seeking enrollment on their waitlist.
However, even after they were allowed to reopen a few months into the pandemic, families were still scared to send their children back. “We tried to reassure families that their children are safe and that we’re taking all the necessary precautions, but they just weren’t coming back,” said Minerva. “We’re still not at full enrollment. The temporary rates provided by DHS are keeping us open. Without the increased rates, many centers like us would have permanently closed.”
The pandemic also heightened staffing issues that were widespread throughout the child care industry even before the pandemic due to low pay ($12.01/hour is the average pay for a child care educator in Rhode Island). During the last year, Over the Rainbow lost several staff members who couldn’t afford to pay for child care for their own school-age children who were suddenly distance learning. Other staff left because they were afraid to be in a classroom during a pandemic with young children who do not reliably wear masks. In an industry that demands a lot from workers but is not structured to pay them competitive salaries, the loss of highly qualified child care staff is challenging.
Minerva and Veronica consider themselves lucky to have many highly qualified, experienced early childhood educators who have worked for them for years. “We are very grateful to our hardworking staff who pour their heart and soul into nurturing and teaching young children,” said Minerva. “Even before the pandemic, we’ve unfortunately had staff members forced to make the difficult decision to leave the child care industry in order to better financially support their family with higher-paying jobs. It shouldn’t be that way.”
Minerva and Veronica hope that Rhode Island legislators recognize how crucial it is to ensure child care programs and early childhood education programs receive rates that meet federal equal access standards so they can serve children from low-income families and retain high-quality early education educators.
“Child care providers don’t get enough credit,” said Veronica. “Without adequate child care options, the economy comes to a halt. With no one to care for their children, parents can’t stay in the workforce, and the entire economy is affected.”
Finding Support through the Family Child Care System
While many Rhode Islanders were being asked to stay home to “flatten the curve” of rising COVID-19 infections, essential workers like Providence resident Soani Delgado scrambled to piece together child care so they could continue going to work. Soani and her husband work in neighborhood bodegas, which many people rely on for necessities such as groceries, medicine, and home essentials.
Soani and her husband figured out a way to temporarily alternate their schedules and piece together care within her family while child care programs were closed during the early months of the pandemic, but Soani says this struggle brought them back to what they’d faced a few years earlier in accessing affordable, high-quality care.
“After my son was born, we couldn’t afford high-quality child care, even with both of us working. So we decided that the best decision financially for our family was for me to stay home with our son,” says Soani. “Two years later, we were able to utilize the state’s Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP), which allowed us to find a high-quality program that fit our needs so I could return to work.”
When her oldest was two, she was relieved to find Nuris Ynoa Family Child Care, a high-quality, licensed home child care program that accepts CCAP. “We’ve been with Nuris for a few years now, and I feel like I’m leaving my kids with family,” says Soani. “At Nuris’s home, my kids get the best of both worlds. They’re in a warm, caring environment, and they get the structure, routine, and early learning skills to prepare them for success in kindergarten.”
Soani and her husband are grateful that they’ve been able to find a licensed, high-quality child care provider, and that they’re able to access assistance so they can both work to support their family. They encourage Rhode Island lawmakers to continue the increased CCAP rates so that high-quality providers like Nuris can continue to serve families with young children across Rhode Island.
“The challenges this past year reinforced how much we rely on Nuris. She’s a key part of our support system,” says Soani. “She accommodates our crazy work schedules, and we go to work confident that our kids are safe and having fun in a high-quality early childhood education setting.”
Advocating to Strengthen Rhode Island’s Licensed Family Child Care System
Nuris Ynoa opened her licensed home child care program after learning that her own child was struggling with a speech delay. She and her husband Jose wanted to create an early learning environment at home to support their son through those developmental challenges. They’re still working hard 22 years later to ensure that all children who pass through their program leave ready to thrive in school. Their current enrolled students range in age from seven months to four years old, and they provide individualized age-appropriate learning and enrichment for each child.
“There’s a stigma out there that home child care providers are babysitters, and that is not true. The truth is that we are educators,” said Nuris. “I went to school to make sure that I earned the necessary credentials to become an early childhood educator, and I attend regular trainings to improve my knowledge so I can keep offering the best learning and care for our kids,” says Nuris, who is one of the highest-rated family child care providers in Rhode Island according to the BrightStars rating system.
In addition to the perception challenges they face, Nuris and Jose are also dealing with the financial struggles facing child care providers across the country, which have only been worsened by the pandemic. Enrollment numbers dropped because parents were keeping their kids home due to the pandemic, and providers had to absorb the cost of additional cleaning supplies and PPE, as well as accounting for the time to complete the COVID-related enhanced cleaning protocols. “I’m concerned about maintaining the safety of the kids. This is something we have always focused on, but now we have to be more diligent. Kids learn by putting things in their mouth, so we have to be on top of every precaution to keep them safe,” said Nuris.
Nuris currently cares for five children, many who attend the program through the state’s Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP), a program that helps low-income families by paying part of the cost of child care. “As home child care providers, we need increased CCAP payments since our business depends on CCAP rates to survive,” said Nuris. “The CCAP rates and long hours we work mean that we struggle to earn even minimum wage. We also want access to the same training and program support that child care centers receive, so we can continue to serve Rhode Island families in a high-quality, home-based program.”
Working Mom Forced Out of Workforce Due to Child Care Costs
Before having children, Providence resident Kristen Garvin earned her Master’s degree in Psychology and opened a private practice as a licensed therapist, an undertaking she describes as “a business I loved, with clients I loved.” After having her second child three years ago, the high cost of child care for two children forced her and her husband Greg Garvin to make the difficult decision to close her business so she could stay home as a primary caregiver. “I worked really hard to get my degree and my license and start my business. It’s work that I enjoy. It was the decision we had to make as a family, but it felt unfair,” said Kristen.
Kristen and Greg’s daughter was in a full-time preschool until the start of the pandemic in March of 2020, and she’s spent the past 14 months at home with her parents and younger brother. While the family has enjoyed the time together, Kristen worries that their kids have fallen behind at home, without the benefit of learning in a setting with peers. “I know the crucial role that the first five years of life play in a child’s educational and professional path. It has a profound impact,” said Kristen. “I’m concerned about the missed opportunities due to her absence from school. We’re doing as much as we can at home, but will it be enough? She has to learn in the real world outside our home and problem solve with other kids. She’s missed opportunities this year to learn and to grow in a way that only a child care setting can offer her.”
The Garvins have been reflecting on what would help families like theirs, where the cost of high-quality child care is greater than one parent’s income. “I would like to see a voucher system, for money to stay with the child or with the family, and let the parents decide what kind of child care works for them the best, “ said Greg. “Ultimately that gives families the flexibility to make a decision that fits their schedule and their needs.”
Kristen and Greg hope to enroll both children in an early childhood education setting in the near future so that Kristen can return to work. They hope that state leaders and lawmakers grasp the importance of the first five years of life, and invest resources into supporting young children and their families so that their parents can work, contributing to both their family’s financial security, as well as Rhode Island’s economy.
Increased weeks for paid family leave are only viable if working families can afford to take the time off.
PROVIDENCE, R.I.–The Rhode Island Paid Leave Coalition and the RIght from the Start campaign are applauding the Senate Labor Committee’s passage of Senate Bill 688 which would increase Rhode Island’s temporary caregiver benefits program (also known as Paid Family Leave) to 8 weeks by 2023, but are urging the Senate to also pass Senate Bill 436 to increase wage replacement rates, particularly for lower-income workers.
During the Senate hearing on these bills, 13 organizations, representing organizations that advocate for Rhode Islanders across the life spectrum including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Associations of Retired Persons testified in support of Senator Goldin’s comprehensive bill. Below are statements from five members of the coalition and campaign making the argument for why it’s necessary to increase wage replacement rates to support workers earning low wages.
RACHEL FLUM, ECONOMIC PROGRESS INSTITUTE: “We are glad that the Senate is focusing on improving paid family leave this year since we’ve seen what a lifeline it has been for so many families during the pandemic,” said Rachel Flum of the Economic Progress Institute. “However, only increasing TCI to 8 weeks without increasing Rhode Island’s lowest in the nation wage replacement rates will do little to make this benefit available to our state’s lower-income workers who literally can’t afford to take this critical care time off. That’s not right, and that’s why we are urging the Senate to also pass Senator Goldin’s comprehensive TCI expansion bill that will increase Rhode Island’s paid family leave replacement rate to at least 75% for lower income workers. Everyone deserves access to this important benefit, not just those who can afford it.”
LEANNE BARRETT, RHODE ISLAND KIDS COUNT: “We know that new parents who earn lower wages take paid leave at lower rates than parent who earn higher wages,” said Leanne Barrett, Senior Policy Analyst at Rhode Island KIDS COUNT. “Low-wage workers are often women and people of color. Rhode Island needs to act to increase wage replacement rates to ensure all families can use the benefit they contribute a portion of their paycheck to. We also strongly support the effort to extend the number of weeks of leave available to be closer to the national standard of 12 weeks of leave.”
PAMELA HIGH, MD, RI CHAPTER OF THE AMERICAN ACADEMY OF PEDIATRICS: “Paid family leave improves the short-term and long-term health of both moms and babies,” said Pamela High, MD, Pediatrician at Hasbro Children’s Hospital and member of the RI Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “All families deserve to have time at home to provide the intensive care that babies need during the first few weeks and months of life without having to worry about making ends meet. The RI Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics urges the General Assembly to strongly consider improving the wage replacement rates for this program to make it more inclusive for low-income workers in addition to extending the number of weeks.”
SAM SALGANIK, RI PARENT INFORMATION NETWORK: “Every day in our work, we see how impactful TCI is for Rhode Islanders, especially parents raising children with special needs and adults caring for aging parents and loved ones,” said Sam Salganik, Executive Director of the RI Parent Information Network. “We support Senator Goldin’s comprehensive approach, including higher wage replacement rates, because it does the most to make this critical support available to low-income families who need it.”
MAUREEN MAIGRET, CHAIR OF THE AGING IN COMMUNITY SUBCOMMITTEE: “We know many grandparents who are still in workforce are responsible for caring for their grandchildren,” said Maureen Maigret, chair of the Aging in Community Subcommittee of the Long Term Care Coordinating Council. “To deny them the opportunity to take paid leave to care for a seriously ill grandchild who they care for is a grave omission from the current law as is the omission of siblings. When parents become unable to care for older children who become ill or injured it is often siblings who step in as the main caregiver and they need the financial support provided by this law.”
For additional background on Rhode Island’s paid family leave program and the Paid Leave Coalition, see www.economicprogressri.org/paidleave, and RIght from the Start’s “Improving Rhode Island’s Paid Family Leave Program” presentation.