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.
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.
RIght from the Start and Rhode Island KIDS COUNT have been proudly participating in Strolling Thunder Rhode Island 2021. Working together with parents, advocates, educators, and legislators, we’ve held seven Zoom advocacy events that featured REAL families sharing REAL experiences and struggles to help advocate for the RIght Start Agenda of policies and legislation designed to help Rhode Island’s young children and families weather the COVID-19 crisis and emerge stronger on the other side.
Our April 28, 2021 virtual event focused on child care and featured remarks from Wilmaris Soto-Ramos, a new mom from Pawtucket who is also the Rhode Island representative to national Strolling Thunder. Wilmaris talked about why she advocates for improved state policies and funding for programs that help families like hers and how better state policies will help her daughter and all kids get off to the right start!
Rhode Island Capitol TV also worked with us to create a special production: Child Care Makes the World Go Round which features remarks from the Governor, Lt. Governor, General Assembly leaders, child care program leaders, and parents of young children.
Throughout May we’ve been organizing individual meetings between parents of young children and key Rhode Island legislative leaders as the General Assembly prepares to make decisions on legislation and state budget priorities in June.
Despite the challenges of COVID-19 and remote advocacy, Strolling Thunder Rhode Island is ensuring that our legislators are hearing directly from parents in support of policies, legislation, and budget items that will help ALL children get off to the right start.
In case you missed it, watch the full version of Rhode Island Capitol TV’s “Childcare Makes the World Go Round” special produced in celebration of Rhode Island Child Care Awareness Day.
Building Rhode Island’s child care sector back better and bolder means creating a wage supplement to help child care programs retain qualified and effective early educators.
Let’s build Rhode Island’s child care sector back better and bolder by passing the Child Care Is Essential Act (H-5672 / S-378). Increase access for families, worthy wages for our childhood educators, and sustainable rates for child care and early education providers.
Rhode Island will be receiving $117 million in federal stimulus dollars dedicated to child care. RIght from the Start has shared the following recommendations with Governor McKee and the General Assembly on how to best use these funds to build our child care sector back better and bolder!
Ahead of Thursday’s House Finance hearing, the RIght from the Start Campaign is urging the passage of House Bill No. 5672, the Rhode Island Child Care Is Essential Act sponsored by Rep. Grace Diaz. This comprehensive legislation would increase Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) rates for providers, provide weekly infant care bonuses to programs, cap family copayments for child care at 7% of family income, and increase access for working families by expanding CCAP eligibility to families with incomes at or below 225% of the federal poverty level.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown just how essential child care is to Rhode Island’s working families, to young children, and to our economy,” said Lisa Hildebrand, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Association for the Education of Young Children. “Now is the time to invest in our child care system so that it can get through the ongoing pandemic and emerge on solid, sustainable footing to serve more young children and working families. That is why we are urging the General Assembly to pass the Rhode Island Child Care Is Essential Act to provide sustainable funding for our child care providers while also expanding eligibility so more working families can access quality, affordable child care.”
“With reduced enrollments and increased health, safety, sanitization, and staffing related costs, Rhode Island’s child care providers have been hit hard economically by the COVID-19 pandemic” said Leanne Barrett of Rhode Island KIDS COUNT. “Fortunately, a combination of federal stimulus dollars and emergency CCAP rate increases have allowed most child care programs to remain open, but these are temporary fixes for a child care system that needs sustainable long term investment. That’s precisely what the Rhode Island Child Care Is Essential Act would provide through increased CCAP rates, while also expanding eligibility to high quality, affordable child care for more children and their families.”
“Even before the pandemic, finding adequate funding to pay our early educators and provide a great learning environment for our kids, while keeping rates affordable for families was extremely difficult,” said Mary Varr, Executive Director of the Woonsocket Head Start Child Development Association. “Now, due to the pandemic we’ve seen decreased enrollments at the same time that our cleaning and staffing costs have increased to comply with health and safety regulations. Stimulus funding and the state’s emergency order to increase CCAP rates have helped us to remain open, but we need a sustainable source of state funding to truly stabilize our child care sector so it can serve our kids, families, and childhood educators. That’s why we strongly support the Child Care Is Essential Act and urge the General Assembly to pass this important legislation.”
“During this pandemic, too many Rhode Island families have had to reduce their work hours or leave jobs altogether because of a lack of child care options,” said Rachel Flum, Executive Director of the Economic Progress Institute. “It is critical that we invest in expanding access to quality affordable child care options for our working families, and that’s what the Child Care Is Essential Act will do by capping child care copays and expanding eligibility. This is exactly the kind of long-term investment we need to make to support our young children, working families, and Rhode Island’s economy.”
“For too long our child care sector has been underfunded, and the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated that reality at precisely the time working families need us the most,” said Khadija Lewis Khan, Executive Director of Beautiful Beginnings Child Care Center in Providence. “The Child Care Is Essential Act recognizes that we are essential to kids, families, and our economy by increasing state funding for programs while also increasing eligibility. This is a smart and needed investment in the infrastructure of quality, affordable child care and early learning in Rhode Island.”
Key Elements of the Child Care Is Essential Act:
Permanently Increases CCAP Rates. Meet or exceed the federal equal access standard for all age groups and settings (75th percentile of the 2018 Market Rate Survey) with 5 quality tiers connected to the program’s BrightStars quality rating to promote access to quality care. Rates for 1-star programs would meet or exceed the federal equal access standard and 5-star programs will meet or exceed the 90th percentile of the 2018 Market Rate Survey.
Provides Weekly Infant Care Bonuses. Pay a $20 weekly bonus payment to programs for each infant under 18 months in care on top of the rate to help with increased staffing needs and individualized care.
Caps Family Copayments at 7% of Family Income. The federal affordability standard is 7% of family income. Some families using CCAP subsidy are charged copayments of 10% or 14% of family income.
Allows More Low-Income Working Families to Qualify for a CCAP Certificate. In 2007, all working families with incomes over 180% FPL ($39,528*) were cut from the program. It is important to restore eligibility to families with incomes at or below 225% FPL ($49,410*) and allow families to retain their subsidy up to 300% FPL ($65,880*). *family of 3 in 2021
State Senator Sandra Cano is the sponsor of Senate Bill No. 378, the Rhode Island Child Care Is Essential Act companion in the Senate.
On March 10th, RIght from the Start was joined by leading legislators, advocates, and a new mom to discuss the importance of improving Rhode Island’s Paid Family Leave program so ALL parents can have adequate income to remain at home with newborns, adoptive, and foster children for at least 12 weeks. Watch the recording of the full discussion below and download our presentation materials here.