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.
On February 8th, U.S. Senator Jack Reed joined RIght from the Start at Beautiful Beginnings Child Care Center in Providence to announce $22.5 million in federal stimulus funding to help Rhode Island’s child care providers so they can remain open and continue to serve our young children and working families. Thank you Senator Reed!
“Child care is a public good and I am grateful to our dedicated child care providers. They are essential workers who provide a strong foundation for learning and make it possible for others to do their jobs too. This new federal funding will help safely open more child care spots and facilities, protect children and adults, and open up doors of opportunity for working parents to earn a living and provide for their family.” – Senator Jack Reed
Thanks to the hard work of our Congressional delegation, Rhode Island is set to receive $22.5 million in funding for child care from the most recent stimulus package passed by Congress in December. This is great news for Rhode Island’s child care providers who have been struggling to remain open due to higher costs associated with the increased staffing needed to maintain small, stable groups of children and adults, purchasing personal protective equipment, implementing enhanced cleaning protocols, and providing extended paid sick time for staff during quarantine periods.
RIght from the Start has provided a detailed set of recommendations to the Governor’s office and the Department of Human Services on the best ways to allocate these funds to support our providers, young children, and Rhode Island’s working parents.
Investments now will help Rhode Island’s young children and families weather the COVID-19 pandemic and emerge stronger on the other side.
Today via Zoom conference (click here for recording), elected leaders, advocates, and families came together to launch the 2021 RIght Start Agenda, a package of legislation and state budget investments (see below) designed to ensure all Rhode Island children get off to the right start in life, and that our young children and families are able to weather the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and emerge even stronger on the other side.
“COVID-19 has further exposed just how critical it is for Rhode Island to invest in affordable, quality child care options, early education opportunities for our children, and policies that support parents and working families,” said Elizabeth Burke Bryant, Executive Director of Rhode Island KIDS COUNT. “We know that the COVID pandemic has hit working moms particularly hard, with many having to reduce hours or leave jobs due to a lack of affordable child care options. This limits children’s early learning opportunities and holds back Rhode Island’s economic rebound. Families of color have been hardest hit by the pandemic. That’s why this year it is more critical than ever that we continue to make strategic investments in Rhode Island’s infrastructure of child care, early learning, maternal and child health, and family support programs. The 2021 RIght Start Agenda is all about helping our young children and families weather this crisis and emerge stronger on the other side, and we look forward to working with our elected leaders to pass this package of legislation and investments.”
“Impactful programming for children and their families does not begin with kindergarten; in fact, it begins much earlier in life,” said Senate Majority Leader Michael J. McCaffrey (D-Dist. 29, Warwick). “There is a clear link between socio-economic status and early childhood development, and these disparities can best be closed by investments in community-based maternal health, childcare and early education. Let’s use the fierce urgency of now to redesign and recommit to getting every child in Rhode Island off to a strong start in life.”
“The pandemic has further intensified and laid bare the struggles that working families face. Now is an opportunity to re-examine our priorities as a state, to say we want every child to have access to the resources they need to start life strong and that it takes support to be able to work and raise a family. We can continue to do better, and it will make our state stronger,” said House Majority Leader Christopher R. Blazejewski (D-Dist. 2, Providence).
“Because I’d lost two previous pregnancies, being pregnant and giving birth to my beautiful daughter Amarie during COVID was a big challenge. But thanks to the support of my doula, I felt supported and empowered at every step,” said Wilmaris Sotos-Ramos of Pawtucket. “Doulas are an important part of our maternal health system, and it’s time for Rhode Island to pass legislation that covers doula services through Medicaid and private health insurance. I also strongly believe Rhode Island needs to expand paid family leave, so new moms, like me, have more time to bond with our beautiful newborns. These are smart policies to support families and help all Rhode Island children get off to the right start in life.”
“Finding quality, affordable child care was a challenge before COVID, and now the pandemic has placed even more stress on working parents and Rhode Island’s child care providers,” said Pawtucket State Senator Sandra Cano. “As a working mom, I know this struggle personally, and have been fortunate to have child care options for my daughter Ariana. But I know many Rhode Island families are not as lucky as I am, and that’s why we must continue to invest in our child care infrastructure. That means ensuring that our child care providers have the resources to pay their bills, including covering wages of staff during repeated quarantines that require staff and children to stay home. It also means finding a way to pay our early childhood educators the worthy wages they deserve as some of our children’s first teachers.”
“Rhode Island has been a leader in supporting high quality child care and early learning opportunities like Head Start and Pre-K, but COVID has exposed just how critical these programs are to our children and families,” said Providence State Representative Grace Diaz. “Now is the time to step-up and provide the resources our child care providers need to safely remain open so they can continue to serve our kids and families. That’s why I support the RIght Start Agenda and why I’ll be sponsoring legislation to increase Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) rates, further expand quality child care options, and invest in our early childhood educators.”
“While Rhode Island has been a leader in providing workers with job protected paid leave, families often need more than the current four weeks provided to care for a new baby or seriously ill family member” said Rachel Flum, Executive Director of the Economic Progress Institute of Rhode Island. “That’s even more true today as so many families are caring for loved ones impacted by COVID. That’s why we support the RIght Start Agenda and legislation to improve our paid leave program by increasing the amount of time and benefits available. Let’s help our families better balance work and family obligations, particularly during this incredibly challenging pandemic.”
“Rhode Island’s Latino community has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, and that’s why it’s more important than ever that our leaders invest in programs and policies that support our children and families right from the start,” said Marcela Betancur, Executive Director of the Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University. “On March 2nd, we have a great opportunity to support more stable housing opportunities for families by voting for the Question 3 Housing & Community Development bond, and to help our child care providers upgrade learning spaces for our kids by voting for the Question 5 Childcare Facilities bond. Combined with supporting the 2021 RIght Start Agenda in the legislature, we can make real strides for Rhode Island’s young children and families so they can make it through this pandemic and be poised to thrive when it comes to an end.”
About the RIght from the Start Campaign
RIght from the Start is a legislative and state budget campaign to advance 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.. RIghtFromTheStartRI.org – Facebook: @RIghtFromTheStartRI – Twitter: @RIghtStartRI
2021 RIght From the Start Legislative and Budget Agenda
Enact strong state and federal revenue policies to maintain, expand and improve essential programs that are a lifeline for babies, young children, and families. We support the Revenue for Rhode Island proposal and other equitable strategies to increase state and federal resources that will help families with young children.
Pass the Rhode Island Child Care is Essential Act to make the increased rates for the Child Care Assistance Program permanent, to promote children’s access to high-quality programs, and help providers meet minimum wage requirements. Safe, healthy, and high-quality child care options are essential for working parents and for children to learn and grow.
Pass the Rhode Island Early Educator Investment Act to establish goals for early educator wages. Early educators, almost all of whom are women and many are people of color, are among the lowest paid workers in the state. Child care, preschool, family home visiting and Early Intervention programs struggle to recruit and retain excellent staff. We should ensure educators that have earned early childhood credentials and demonstrate effective practice are rewarded with increased wages, comparable to similarly qualified K-12 educators.
Improve our state’s paid family leave program (Temporary Caregivers Insurance) to match national benchmarks by increasing wage replacement rates and extending the number of weeks. We need to improve Rhode Island’s paid family leave policy so all parents, and especially lower-wage earning parents, can have adequate income to remain at home with newborns, adoptive, and foster children for at least 12 weeks.
Cover community-based doula services through Medicaid and private health insurance. Invest in building, supporting, and sustaining the doula workforce and infrastructure in the state as a strategy to reduce racial and economic disparities in maternal and child health outcomes.
Address the staffing crisis for the RI Early Intervention program and our network of voluntary Family Home Visiting programs by increasing Medicaid rates and allocating adequate state funds as a Medicaid match to reach more families.
Maintain full state funding and children’s access to RI Pre-K and Head Start. Both are high-quality programs that help get children on track for school success.
Vote to pass Question 3 and Question 5 on the March 2, 2021 ballot to expand access to affordable housing and help early learning programs improve their facilities.
Racial discrimination and implicit bias result in unequal treatment of black women in the medical system. In Rhode Island, black women are 42% more likely to experience a severe complication at delivery than white women and the infant mortality rate for black infants is three times that of white infants. That’s unacceptable. A key strategy to address this issue is making doula services eligible for reimbursement through Medicaid and private insurance and investing in building, supporting, and sustaining Rhode Island’s doula workforce and infrastructure.
Watch this powerful video about how community-based doulas are empowering Rhode Island moms RIght from the Start.
The Rhode Island State Fiscal Year 2021 budget which runs from July 1, 2020-June 30, 2021 was passed by the House Finance Committee on December 9, 2020. The budget proposal is scheduled for a vote by the full House and Senate on December 16, 2020. Overall, the budget proposed by House Finance provides level funding of state general revenue to sustain existing early childhood programs, but no new state investments.
- No additional state or federal funding was allocated to the Child Care Assistance Program for FY21, with state funding expected to decline from $9.4 million in FY20 to $9.0 million in FY21. Rates for the Child Care Assistance Program were not increased in statute for any age category or setting. The continuation of the temporary rate increases authorized by the Governor to start in June 2020 have been continued on a month-by-month basis and due to declines in active subsidies, the overall funding has not increased. Continuation of enhanced rates depends on federal COVID relief funding continuing through June 2021 or new state funding. The rates in statute have not been increased and do not meet the federal equal access standard.
- No additional state funding was allocated for the RI Pre-K expansion. The budget continues the $14.9 million in state funding allocated for FY20 and relies on federal grant funding to support the new 17 classrooms added for the 2020-2021 school year ($4.2 million from the PDG Birth to 5 grant).
- No state funding has been allocated to fund perinatal doula services through Medicaid.
- No state funding has been allocated to fund family home visiting programs.
- A $65 million bond referendum question to support affordable housing will be placed as a proposition on a statewide the ballot with a vote to be held on March 1, 2021.
- A separate $15 million bond referendum question to support physical improvements to and development of licensed early childhood care and education facilities through an Early Childhood Care and Education Capital Fund will be placed as a proposition on a statewide ballot with a vote to be held on March 1, 2021.
Notes on Federal Grants:
The FY21 budget includes $8.9 million federal funding from the Preschool Development Grant: Birth to Five (Year One of a three-year $27 million grant) allocated as follows:
- $4.2 million to RIDE for 17 new RI Pre-K classrooms and program management/professional development in 2020-2021
- $1.9 million to RIDOH to conduct a comprehensive statewide birth through five needs assessment to provide more choices for child care centers, home visiting service providers and home-based child care providers,
- $1.5 million for EOHHS to fund a public awareness campaign, research activities related to the barriers to access child care, and a survey to determine child care needs in the state. Funding also supports contracted information technology management and program evaluation services.
- $1.4 million for DHS for unspecified projects.
The FY21 budget includes $5.0 million from federal CARES Act funds for a new child care relief capital fund. Funds are being awarded to centers and family based providers, including those that do not currently participate in the Child Care Assistance Program so long as they meet the grant requirements. The Department anticipates awarding up to 500 grants to providers for physical space improvements needed to comply with enhanced health and safety regulations.
FY21 HOUSE FINANCE BUDGET DETAILS COPIED FROM HOUSE FISCAL OFFICE SUMMARY:
Commerce: Housing Governance Fund. H 7171, Substitute A does not include the Governor’s proposal to double the Real Estate Conveyance Tax for values over $0.5 million to support $3.5 million of expenditures for new programs established in conjunction with her proposed housing policy governance restructuring. While that restructuring is also not included, H 7171, Substitute A does include a $65.0 million bond referendum to support affordable housing.
DHS: Child Care Provider Capital Support. H 7171, Substitute A includes $5.0 million from federal Child Care Development funds for a new child care relief capital fund. Funds will be awarded to center and family based providers, including those that do not currently participate in the Child Care Assistance Program so long as they meet the grant requirements. The Department anticipates awarding up to 500 grants to providers for physical space improvements needed to comply with enhanced health and safety regulations.
DHS: Child Care Rates – Current Law. H 7171, Substitute A excludes the Governor’s proposal to increase rates paid to center-based child care providers for infant, toddler and preschool age children in the child care assistance program. The budget delay revised the FY 2021 estimated to cost $1.9 million. It should be noted, however, that on May 27, the Governor signed Executive Order 20-39 authorizing the Department to temporarily increase child care reimbursement rates for Child Care Assistance Program providers to assist with the cost of new regulations. Through executive orders, the enhanced rates have been extended each month through December 23. The November caseload estimate assumes the enhanced rates will continue to be extended through the remainder of FY 2021.
DHS: Preschool Development Grant (GBA). In December 2019, the state was awarded a three-year, $26.8 million federal grant to improve birth through age five education. H 7171, Substitute A includes the Governor’s requested budget amendment to include $8.9 million for FY 2021 across four state agencies, including $1.4 million for the Department of Human Services.
RIDE: Pre-K Program to Current Law (1.0 FTE). The Governor recommends $4.9 million from general revenues from a proposal to add prekindergarten students enrolled in district-run classrooms to the funding formula, expand the number of non-district classrooms, and add a new full-time equivalent position. The proposal does not limit the expansion of district-run classrooms supported by the formula, so long as they are approved by the Department. Additionally, the state received a three-year, $26.8 million grant to improve birth through age five education, including creation of new classrooms. It appears that the new federal funds could be used for staff. H 7171, Substitute A maintains current law on the funding formula; it does, however, include $4.2 million from new federal funds, noted separately.
RIDE: Preschool Development Grant (GBA). In December 2019, the state was awarded a three-year, $26.8 million federal grant to improve birth through age five education. The Governor’s budget excludes the federal funds, though supporting documents indicate that funds would be used to expand and support the state’s prekindergarten program. It should also be noted that the Department awarded 17 new state classrooms in FY 2021 using $3.0 million of the new federal funds. H 7171, Substitute A is consistent with the Governor’s requested amendment to add $4.2 million from new federal preschool development funds, including the $3.0 million for classrooms and $1.2 million for program expenses, including professional development and technical assistance for those new classrooms.
EOHHS: Preschool Development Grant. In December 2019, the state was awarded a three-year, $26.8 million federal grant to improve birth through age five education through the federal Preschool Developmental Grant. H 7171, Substitute A includes $1.5 million in the Executive Office’s budget to fund a public awareness campaign, research activities related to the barriers to access child care, and a survey to determine child care needs in the state. Funding also supports contracted information technology management and program evaluation services.
EOHHS: Perinatal Doula Services. H 7171, Substitute A does not include the Governor’s recommendation to expand the Medicaid program to include coverage for Perinatal Doula Services. Originally estimated to cost $0.2 million with half coming from general revenues, the revised estimate calculated with the November Caseload Estimate to reflect delay in budget adoption is $149,956, including $57,308 from general revenues.
RIDOH: Home Visiting Program Expansion. The Governor’s budget adds new general revenue expenditures of $0.4 million to provide families with resources and services such as preventive health and prenatal care and $0.7 million to support family home visiting programs, which provide families with resources and services such as promoting positive parenting techniques, and finding employment and child care solutions. H 7171, Substitute A does not include the new funding. This program is currently funded with federal Maternal and Child Health Care Block Grant funds.
RIDOH: Preschool Development Grant & Other Federal Adjustments (GBA). The Executive Office of Health and Human Services received a new three year grant award of $27.0 million to improve the quality and availability of early childhood care and education services in the state. The Executive Office entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Department of Health to complete certain tasks. The Governor subsequently requested an amendment to include $1.9 million in the Department of Health to conduct a comprehensive statewide birth through five needs assessment to provide more choices for child care centers, home visiting service providers and home-based child care providers.
Proposed Ballot Questions for March 1, 2021 Special Election:
Question 3: Housing and Community Opportunity $65,000,000
Approval of this question will allow the State of Rhode Island to issue general obligation bonds, refunding bonds, and/or temporary notes in an amount not to exceed sixty-five million dollars ($65,000,000) to increase the availability of affordable housing and support community revitalization through the redevelopment of existing structures, new construction, and property acquisition
Question 5: Early Childhood Care and Education Capital Fund $15,000,000
Approval of this question will allow the State of Rhode Island to issue general obligation bonds, refunding bonds, and/or temporary notes in an amount not to exceed fifteen million dollars ($15,000,000) for physical improvements to and development of licensed early childhood care and education facilities through an Early Childhood Care and Education Capital Fund. Quality early childhood education and child care is necessary for a robust economy in support of parents in the workplace and as foundation to the academic success of Rhode Island’s children. In 2019, only twenty percent (20%) of the physical space licensed for the State’s four-year-old population meets the State definition of quality, and there are eighteen (18) cities and towns that do not have any infant/toddler care options. These funds will support greater access to safe, high-quality early learning opportunities for Rhode Island children.
The RIght from the Start campaign has shared a series of recommendations (see full letter) on how to improve child care & early learning programs with President-Elect Joe Biden’s transition team:
- Prioritize robust funding for core early childhood programs in any COVID relief package and in President-Elect Biden’s budgets, particularly his first budget. The biggest challenge facing all of our non-public school programs is a staffing crisis that was present before COVID-19 and has only gotten worse during the pandemic. Staffing challenges are due to low funding levels (from government and families who generally cannot afford to pay any more than they are currently paying), inadequate wages and benefits (including inadequate paid sick time and health insurance for educators), low education/training levels of staff, inadequate supervision/coaching practices, and little to no resources to staff programs when educators are out sick or on quarantine.
- Reconstruct an office of Early Childhood Learning and Development at USED to partner with the Office of Early Childhood Learning and Development at USHHS that oversees Child Care and Head Start. The USED office Early Childhood office could be responsible for policy and funding of public education for children ages 3 to Grade 3, IDEA Part C, and IDEA Part B, Section 619. It could also promote coordination and planning with 21st Century Community Learning Center funding and CCDBG.
- Create/restore a leadership position that has cross-departmental oversight for early learning and development across USHHS and USED. Modeling effective cross-departmental goal setting, planning and implementation, cooperation, funding, oversight, and data sharing is very important to move the field forward, particularly during a crisis.
- Consider moving the Maternal Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting program into the Office of Early Childhood Development at USHHS and promote coordination with Early Head Start and Early Intervention (Part C of IDEA).
- Re-engage State Advisory Councils on Early Care and Education, required under the 2007 Head Start Act, in state and federal processes to fund and oversee early learning and development programs. Provide more clear guidance and support to states on why and how to operate an effective Advisory Council which needs to include strong leadership and participation from non-governmental agencies. Require and provide adequate time for State Advisory Councils to review and sign off on state plans, reports, and grant applications for early childhood funding. Consider providing funding to support basic Council operations to include basic staffing inside and outside government, public websites with Council recommendations, providing stipends for non-salaried stakeholders to participate, providing simultaneous interpretation, and other planning expenses that could include conducting periodic workforce surveys, etc.
- Require states hold public hearings on all major federal grant applications with adequate time to collect and incorporate public input before submission.
- Post copies of all state grant applications and annual performance reports, including budget information and financial reporting, on websites accessible to the public.
- Require federal agencies to post up-to-date compliance and non-compliance information about state early childhood programs, including federal letters written to state agency leaders about compliance and corrective actions required, on websites accessible to the public. Post state corrective action plans submitted to federal agencies.
As Congress continues to work on a second COVID stimulus package, the RIght from the Start campaign recently wrote to Rhode Island Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse urging them to include at least a $10 billion investment to stabilize our nation’s critical child care sector:
Now, more than ever, children are in need of consistent and nurturing caregiving and access to early childhood, afterschool, and summer learning opportunities. Parents are in desperate need of safe options so they can return to work. Rhode Island needs to maintain a stable supply of healthy, safe, and quality child care options.
An investment of $10 billion for our nation’s child care sector in a second federal stimulus package would mean more than $20 million that would flow to Rhode Island’s child care system. This funding is desperately needed to stabilize our child care providers and child care workforce so they can continue to serve Rhode Island’s children and families.
The RIght from the Start campaign recently wrote to Rhode Island Department of Health Director Nicole Alexander-Scott urging her to share more data about COVID-19 cases in licensed child care and early learning programs and to prioritize voluntary COVID-19 vaccination availability for our state’s early childhood workforce.
Thanks to the leadership of Governor Raimondo, RIDOH, the Department of Human Services, and the Department of Education, Rhode Island’s child care, Head Start, and Pre-Ks have been able to safely reopen, and evidence to date indicates that child care is not associated with significant secondary spread of the coronavirus so long as safety protocols are followed, including quarantining children and staff who have been exposed. This is highly encouraging. Nevertheless, many Rhode Island child care and early learning programs report that they have had to close classrooms and programs when employees, children, and family members were ordered to quarantine due to exposure to COVID or when they contracted COVID. During the months of June and July alone, over 850 individuals were ordered to quarantine for 52 confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 associated with a licensed child care or early learning program. Early access to voluntary vaccines for staff will help programs stabilize staffing and reduce the need to close classrooms and programs when individuals are quarantined.
The RIght from the Start campaign recently shared a letter with Governor Raimondo’s office on recommendations to improve Rhode Island’s 2020-2023 Early Childhood Care and Education Strategic Plan, a key part of the state’s Preschool Development Birth through Five (PDG B-5) federal grant.
The Providence Business News has published a powerful commentary piece, “Threat to child care sector is far-reaching,” by Dr. Pamela High and Anna Aizer of Brown University on the critical need for our state and federal leaders to invest in child care.
To ensure that our child care sector survives to support Rhode Island’s working families, these rate increases and payment practices must be made permanent. The Child Care Relief Fund should be expanded to help more providers with staffing costs, including programs that serve middle-income families not eligible for assistance but unable to pay the full cost of quality care. In addition, we should implement recommendations from Rhode Island’s Infant/Toddler Educator Task Force, that the state offer a wage enhancement to attract and retain qualified early educators in child care programs.
While Rhode Island is facing a difficult budget environment, any cuts to state child care funding would be shortsighted, threatening the supply of child care slots at precisely the time they are needed most.
At the federal level, Congress must act to pass the Child Care Is Essential Act, a $50 billion infusion of aid to stabilize the child care industry that would bring over $100 million to Rhode Island for this essential work.
There will be no robust recovery without a strong system of child care. That is why now is the time for our state and Congressional leaders to support working families and young children by investing in our nation’s critical child care infrastructure.