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.
High-Quality, Affordable Child Care Essential for Working Parents and a Strong State Economy
Beautiful Beginnings Child Care Center offers high-quality child care and early childhood education for children from infancy through preschool, centered on the belief that working families need high-quality options and that all children can achieve at a high level when given what they need.
Khadija Lewis Khan, M.Ed., Director of Beautiful Beginnings, says that educators with strong early childhood knowledge and skills are not willing to work for the $12.11 hourly wage that is typical for child care educators in Rhode Island. Even though the center pays more than that, it is incredibly difficult to attract and retain qualified, skilled educators to work for low wages, a problem that all child care programs have struggled with in recent years. The pandemic has only amplified this problem.
“We’ve been able to increase compensation at all levels using DHS stabilization funds to ensure we have the high quality educators we need to stay open,” said Khadija. “In January, some of that funding will end, and our only other option would be to eventually raise tuition when families are facing their own financial stresses. These supplemental funds have allowed us to remain operational, but we need them as a permanent fix not just a band-aid during the pandemic.”
Despite their best efforts to be creative and resourceful in how they fund their high-quality environment, Beautiful Beginnings—along with the entire child care industry—faces a major staffing crisis. The center continues to lose qualified teachers due to inadequate resources to offer competitive wages and benefits.
With a total waitlist of 180 children waiting on classroom spots, and despite having a long waitlist of families who need infant care, Beautiful Beginnings was forced to close an infant classroom for over a year due to not having adequate infant educators. Fortunately, the infant classroom was finally staffed and reopened in October of 2021.
“The role of early educators is so important, and most people don’t realize the vast skills that go into the profession. It requires a grasp of child development, curriculum development, assessment, family engagement, classroom setup, safety protocols, documentation, literacy, and communications skills,” said Khadija. “Our educators deserve to be compensated fairly for their expertise with a competitive and family-sustaining wage. If we don’t invest in the field, we’re all going to feel the repercussions, as high quality early childhood educators will no longer be available to prepare our children for success.”
Khadija has been a leader on state task forces to develop recommendations to improve compensation levels of child care educators. She recommends the state allocate resources immediately to supplement hourly wages for all child care staff to reach at least $15 per hour, and to provide additional wage supplements to help programs retain the more qualified and skilled child care educators so they don’t leave for higher paying jobs. At least 15 states currently provide wage supplements to help child care programs retain qualified and skilled educators.
“Having consistent, stable, nurturing relationships with caregivers is so important for young children. When educators are forced to explore higher-paying employment options in other fields so they can support their families, it’s our kids who suffer. We must change the ways early childhood education is funded so qualified educators are able to remain in the field,” said Khadija.
Highly-Skilled Educators Are Key for High-Quality Child Care
East Providence resident Erin Thibeault is a certified special education teacher who currently teaches first grade in the East Providence Public Schools. Her four-year-old son attends child care at Meeting Street Early Learning Center in Providence while she and her husband are at work. Erin raves about the high quality learning environment at Meeting Street, which she sought out after a negative experience at a child care program her son previously attended.
After Erin became concerned about her son’s development as an infant, the family began receiving services from Early Intervention that are designed to help infants and toddlers with developmental delays and disabilities. Her son started in a child care program at 18 months, and EI specialists would regularly observe him in his child care classroom, providing recommendations to make the classroom experience more productive and enjoyable for him. Ultimately, the child care staff at this program was not able to successfully implement the Early Intervention recommendations, and Erin was forced to leave the program because they could not meet his needs.
“I saw the teachers at his old program visibly frustrated with his behavior. They didn’t have the administrative support or specialized training to meet his needs, and they declined to implement simple recommendations from our EI specialists, such as not putting him at a table with more than three other children. They saw him as a kid who was acting out, and didn’t know how to help him,” said Erin. “I was scared that we’d be asked to leave, and thought I was going to have to quit my job to stay home with him. I know of two other families who had a similar experience, so it’s not uncommon.”
Erin says that after switching to Meeting Street, a completely different side of her son emerged. “On the first day they met him, they understood him—they realized he was a sensory seeker, who would benefit from boundaries and routines. They recognize when he’s getting dysregulated and help him regulate. They have an awesome inclusion program and have helped him with peer relationships. It has made a world of difference,” said Erin. “He’s recently been diagnosed with ADHD, and without Meeting Street, I’m terrified to think what his trajectory could be.”
Even with her degree in elementary education and her special education certification, Erin says it still took independent research, multiple conversations with their pediatrician, advice from a social worker, and months of meetings with various EI specialists to steer her in the right direction with her son’s early learning. Erin recognizes that she had the knowledge to access resources and was not afraid to advocate for her son, and she wonders—what’s happening to the children of families without the same advantages?
Erin believes that all teachers, including early childhood educators working in child care settings, must have the skills, knowledge and resources to address the needs of all children so that every child has the opportunity to thrive in the classroom. Erin stresses that it’s crucial that legislators and statewide leaders ensure child care programs receive the funding needed to attract and retain qualified and effective early childhood educators. Rhode Island child care licensing regulations currently require only a high school diploma to be a classroom teacher or family child care provider. Although the state has helped with scholarships for early childhood educators through several initiatives, it is difficult to keep skilled early educators in the child care field once they’ve completed their degree because compensation is so low ($12.11 per hour on average in 2020).
Due to staffing challenges, Meeting Street has only been able to consistently stay open until 4:00 or 5:00 p.m. even though families request later pickup times due to their work schedules. They may need to decrease their hours further if the staffing crisis continues, and they currently have 15 children waiting for classroom spots to open up. Without child care staff to accommodate families that need care, more working parents will struggle to find care during the hours they work to support their families.
Erin says that paying for child care has also been a struggle, and that tuition has consistently been equal to or higher than her housing costs. She’s not sure she could afford to cover the costs of child care for a second child, even with her public school teacher salary combined with her husband’s salary as a firefighter and ability to earn more by working overtime.
“I want our legislators and statewide leaders to know that every family needs and deserves access to high quality child care that meets the needs of their family. It’s crucial to a functioning society,” said Erin. “The child care payment model is flawed, and the full cost burden of child care cannot fall solely on hardworking parents who can’t afford it. We cannot afford to pay more than we already are for child care and we desperately need child care educators to be adequately compensated for the critical work they do.”
Child Care Centers Struggle to Keep Qualified, Dedicated Staff
Kayla Arruda earned her associates degree in 2014, and began working in a child care program. She quickly progressed through the early childhood education ranks from teacher’s aid to program leader. While her classroom experience, level of responsibility, and time commitment dramatically increased, her pay unfortunately did not increase enough for her to financially support herself while working in the childcare field. She was forced to leave the field in 2019 for a human relations role at retail chain BJs Wholesale Club, which came with a slightly higher salary, shorter hours, and significantly less job-related stress.
“It broke my heart to leave my kids, families and teachers in child care. But I needed to earn more, and I knew I couldn’t earn my bachelor’s degree or a better salary while working the long, demanding hours as an early childhood educator in child care,” said Kayla.
Kayla spent two years earning her degree while working in retail, and this summer was able to return to her chosen field as a North Providence child care program administrator. While she’s grateful to be back in a career she finds immensely fulfilling, Kayla is concerned about the common struggles she sees her colleagues facing, who on average earn just above minimum wage.
“I’ve seen early childhood educators forced to choose between paying their phone bill and being able to afford health care bills. I know of classroom teachers working two jobs to make ends meet, despite working long hours in a high-stress job. It’s not sustainable,” said Kayla. “Despite many of us trying our best to stay in the field because we love nurturing and educating children during these critical developmental years, we can’t stay if the time and money we invest in the job is far greater than the compensation and career paths available. Wages must go up so child care programs can retain enough qualified, passionate staff in the field to serve all working families who need care.”
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median wage for a child care educator in Rhode Island was $12.11/hour in May 2020. While child care is expensive for most families, the tuition covered by families is not enough for programs to pay competitive wages to educators. Tuition generally covers the basic costs to staff a child care program that is open 10-12 hours per day, meet required staff to child ratios, and cover basic supplies and operating costs. Less than 50 percent of Rhode Island child care centers are able to offer health insurance to their employees based on what they collect in tuition.
“Increasing wages for child care educators will have the added benefit of improving gender and racial equity, since 99 percent of child care educators in Rhode Island are women, and many are women of color,” said Kayla. “There’s tremendous value in the work they do, but they’re not being compensated for the value they bring to our communities. They’re helping raise and educate our children, giving them the tools to succeed for the rest of their life, and we can’t afford to keep short-changing them.”
Kayla stresses that lawmakers and statewide leaders must increase funding and resources for the industry so that child care programs can pay their staff adequately without putting the burden of increasing costs on families. She knows how much families rely on high-quality care options, and that they can’t bear the burden of increasing child care costs. She encourages legislators to ensure that child care and preschool teachers who have earned early childhood credentials and demonstrated their effectiveness are rewarded with increased wages, comparable to similarly qualified k-12 educators. Kayla wants statewide leaders to recognize that the current funding model is not sustainable, both statewide in Rhode Island, and across the rest of our country.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. – A broad coalition of 40 child care providers, advocates, and community organizations have co-signed a letter urging Governor Dan McKee and the General Assembly to immediately utilize American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to help working families access reliable, affordable, quality child care.
“Rhode Island’s child care system is in crisis mode due to the combination of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and a severe worker shortage that is forcing many providers to reduce hours, close classrooms, and shutter programs” said Lisa Hildebrand, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Association for the Education of Young Children (RIAEYC). “When providers have to reduce hours or close programs, it creates chaos for working families who have to scramble to find alternative child care options, increases waitlists, and reduces the overall number of child care seats available across Rhode Island. That is why RIAEYC, along with a broad coalition of child care providers, advocates, and community organizations are calling on Governor McKee and the General Assembly to immediately utilize ARPA funds so more families can get help to pay for child care and to help our child care sector attract and retain staff. A reliable, quality, child care system is essential for parents to work, for businesses to employ parents, and for our state’s economic rebound.”
Specific investments and policy changes called for in the letter include:
- Help more families pay for care by increasing the family income limit for a child care subsidy.
- Help child care programs compete for staff without increasing family fees.
- Stop the brain drain of qualified child care educators.
- Provide support to maintain and increase access to infant/toddler care for families with a subsidy.
- Pass the Early Educator Investment Act.
The following child care providers, advocates, and community organizations co-signed the letter to Governor McKee and the General Assembly. The letter is available here.
Beautiful Beginnings Child Care Center
Center for Early Learning Professionals
Center for Southeast Asians
Child & Family
Community Provider Network of Rhode Island
Comprehensive Community Action Inc.
Connecting for Children and Families
Dr. Daycare/Kids Klub
Economic Progress Institute
Family Service of Rhode Island
Federal Hill House
Hamlet Learning Center
Latino Policy Institute
LISC Rhode Island
Newport County YMCA
Ocean Community YMCA
Over the Rainbow Learning Center
Parents Leading for Educational Equity
Planned Parenthood of Southern New England
Reach Out and Read Rhode Island
Rhode Island Association for Infant Mental Health
Rhode Island Association for the Education of Young Children
Rhode Island Child Care Directors Association
Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence
Rhode Island Head Start Association
Rhode Island KIDS COUNT
Rhode Island NOW
Rhode Island Parent Information Network
Rhode Island Working Families Party
SEIU Education and Support Fund
United Way of Rhode Island
Women’s Fund of Rhode Island
YMCA of Pawtucket
YMCA of Greater Providence
YWCA Rhode Island
Family Child Care Providers Struggle with Low Pay, Hurdles to Career Advancement
Providence resident Estefany Ortiz opened her family child care after giving birth to her son in 2016. She had been working in a department store, and starting a child care business was one of the only ways she could afford high quality care for her son. Although she loves the early childhood classroom she’s created in her home and currently has a large waitlist of families, the road hasn’t been easy. Today she runs her program with the help of a teaching assistant and an assistant-in-training, while she attends Rhode Island College, where she’s earning her bachelor’s degree in early childhood education through a state-sponsored T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood scholarship.
“I’m actually losing income to complete school even though I have a scholarship, since I need to pay teachers to fill in for me at my program while I’m in classes. It’s extremely difficult to run my business and take classes at the same time,” she said. “Many child care providers are never able to finish their degrees because they think they won’t make back the time and money they’d invest into school. You wonder–is it worth the sacrifices to earn this degree that isn’t even required?”
Estefany’s program was recently closed for a week because of a COVID exposure. Since many of her families pay out of pocket for full tuition and needed their money to pay for an alternate child care option that week, she was not able to charge them for tuition while her program was closed. “I need to be flexible for my parents who are unable to work and losing wages when their children stay home,” said Estefany. “However, I couldn’t survive a month without being paid. If we had to quarantine for four weeks, I would be forced to close my doors for good.”
The pandemic heightened these unsustainable payment practices, and Estefany feels family child care providers have been left to fend for themselves. She says that in order to provide the high quality learning environments working parents depend on, family child care providers need support to further their professional development and education, and higher pay to make it possible and worthwhile. She believes that one of the biggest hurdles to better wages for family child care providers is the misconception that they’re just babysitters.
“I’m constantly correcting parents who come to me looking for a babysitter. Because my classroom is within my home, parents see it as lower quality than a child care center, and feel that it should cost significantly less,” said Estefany. “But the reality is that I’m offering a high quality learning environment that is intimate, personalized, and culturally relevant. I get to know all these kids personally, I’m tracking their development, and I’m coming up with personalized lessons and activities for each of them based on their interests. There isn’t the capacity to do that in all child care centers.”
Estefany is concerned that families don’t recognize that investing in high quality early childhood learning pays off in the long run, and often seek out child care options based solely on affordability and convenience. “Parents must understand how important it is to learn school readiness skills, like waiting for your turn, socializing with peers, or holding scissors. Building these important skills at the right time will help build success in school and in life,” she said. “If a child doesn’t gain these skills at a young age, they’ll have to work that much harder to catch up, and elementary school teachers likely won’t have the time or capacity to get them up to speed. About 40 percent of kids in Providence perform below grade level when they start school because they haven’t had a high quality early learning experience.”
Estefany stresses that legislators and statewide leaders must prioritize making a variety of high quality childhood education options accessible for all families, by assuring child care workers are paid adequate, consistent wages so they can offer a high quality learning environment. She knows that in the long run, investments in early childhood pay off, because children who have high quality early learning experiences have a huge advantage over their peers throughout their k-12 education.
Centers Struggle to Pay Staff, And Families Can’t Cover Additional Costs of Higher Wages
West Warwick child care program administrator Robert Halley has been working in the industry since 2009. He has served in roles ranging from lead teacher to director, and has seen the struggles early childhood educators and working families face as a result of the child care workforce crisis. On a daily basis at the Academy for Little Children, Robert sees the tremendous challenges families face in securing high quality child care.
“Child care is a serious burden on families, especially if they have more than one child. There are often waitlists, and families struggle to find a spot even if they can afford care. Sometimes families end up having to drive extremely far each day to a center with an opening, or parents have to quit their job if they couldn’t find an opening,” said Robert. “ There are cascading financial consequences if families can’t find affordable, reliable, quality care.”
Unfortunately, waitlists are growing as the child care workforce crisis deepens in Rhode Island and programs are unable to offer competitive wages to attract and retain qualified teachers. At Robert’s program, the staff turnover rate has skyrocketed from 5% to over 38%, and their overall teaching staff has been reduced from 19 to 13. Due to this shortage, they’ve had to pause new enrollments.
“It was difficult to find qualified staff before the pandemic because it’s a low-paying field, but now it’s impossible,” said Robert. “We can’t even get basic, entry-level applicants to show up for interviews. We just can’t compete with large retail corporations like Target who are able to pay more for jobs that come with less stress and more flexible schedules.”
Robert cites a number of factors as deterrents for job-seekers, and reasons for educators frequently leaving the field. He says the majority of child care programs aren’t able to offer competitive pay above minimum wage because the costs associated with running the business take up their budget. They are also unable to raise tuition prices because most parents simply cannot afford to pay any more than they already are. Program budgets don’t leave enough funds to pay staff a healthy and competitive wage being in an early, and teaching in an early childhood classroom is fast-paced and stressful with little downtime. Low wages make it even more difficult to attract and retain certified, experienced teachers. He said staff struggle to pay for basic living expenses, school loans, monthly bills, and housing; it is possible for early childhood educators to work fulltime and still qualify for Medicaid. Many have expressed that they can only afford to stay in the field with a second job, or if they have a spouse in a higher-paying field.
The pandemic has only increased the stresses of the job. Early childhood educators work with children who are not vaccinated and cannot reliably wear masks. Teachers fear they’ll be exposed to COVID-19 and bring it home to their families. Educators also have added cleaning protocols on top of an already packed day, and new pod and isolation protocols make educators feel even more alone on the job. As more staff leave, there isn’t coverage if someone is out sick, asks to book time off, or has to quarantine.
“If the child care industry is in crisis, it impacts everyone. If child care providers don’t have spots for families who need care, it affects all industries,” said Robert. “Parents working in every field need care—nurses, engineers, sanitation workers, nursing home staff, food supply chain workers. If they can’t access affordable, high quality child care, parents will have to take time away from the workforce and the entire economy is impacted. We must devote resources to support the child care workforce so this doesn’t happen.”
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.