Less than three months after Care4Kids daycare workers voted to unionize, the Children’s Committee held a public hearing Tuesday on a bill that would eventually increase their pay and expand access to the program.
An executive order signed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, cleared the path for the providers, who paid under the Department of Social Services program, to form a union. In December, they voted 1603 to 88 for CSEA/SEIU Local 2001 to represent them in negotiations with the state.
The bill would require that within the next 10 years, the state maintain payments to the providers 75 percent of the current market rates. Any increase in funding to DSS’s childcare subsidy program in the next fiscal year would be used to proportionately increase pay to the providers.
The legislation also expands access to the program for parents. Currently a parent on unemployment can continue to be eligible for access for 60 days. The bill would stretch that to six months.
The bill would allow teen mothers in high school to be eligible by not factoring the income of their parents into eligibility, regardless of whether they reside with parents. Finally it allows mothers on maternity leave to be eligible for up to 12 weeks, provided they intend to return to work.
The proposal did not get the support of Social Services Commissioner Roderick L. Bremby, who testified that the expansions are expensive and would divert resources away from working families currently receiving benefits.
According to Bremby’s estimates the maternity leave provision would cost $2.57 million, the teen parent would cost $3.5 million, and the unemployment expansion would cost $14.2 million.
“An expansion of this magnitude would limit the benefits available to families who are working and in need of child care services,” he told the committee. “… All of the above changes to the C4K program proposed in this bill are well-intended and would have a significant fiscal impact and very likely result in fewer working families having access.”
However, Maggie Adair, executive director of the CT Early Childhood Alliance, said the proposal will increase the quality of early childhood education, helping to close the achievement gap, and should come with increased funding. The program is currently funded at $97 million, significantly below its 2001 level when it was funded at $120 million, she said.
She speculated that the DSS cost estimate for the teen parent expansion was probably inflated by the assumption that every teen mother in the state will apply for benefits, which she said was unlikely. Currently, many teen parents are forced to drop out of high school to take care of children due to the high cost of child care, she said.
“Expanding Care4Kids to this relatively small population would support fragile young parents and keep them in school,” she said.
Rep. Whit Betts, R- Bristol, agreed that access to the program was important but said he had concerns about the timing. However, given the projections of a possible deficit in the state budget and uncertainties on the federal level, it’s a difficult time to fund and sustain the changes, he said.
Outside the hearing room, Rep. Rob Sampson, R- Wolcott, expressed concern about the direction of the bill. Sampson has been a staunch opponent of the executive order which allowed the providers to form a union and said the bill may be a step towards expanding the membership of the union.
“To me it looks like a multiple step process just like the unionization of the daycare providers was to begin with,” he said. “Step one is to go ahead and expand the pool of people and then second step is to say, ‘well gee, now we have these additional people we need more funding.’ In the end, you end up with more dues paying union members.”
SEIU State Council Director Paul Filson said that while that may ultimately happen, it’s not the point of the bill. If rates go up the state could either pay providers more or expand the number of providers, he said.
“If that happened then we would get a few extra union members but that’s not why we’re doing it,” he said. “The reason we would do it is we’re advocating for the members we have or the members we would like to have in the future.”
Filson said the union was not the driving force behind the bill but is supporting it. Had SEIU drafted the bill, it would have asked for a larger increase in the rates providers are paid, he said. He said the program does need more funding and brushed off Bremby’s budgetary concerns.
“Bremby said, ‘good ideas but it costs money.’ My essential argument if it comes is that GE doesn’t pay any taxes in Connecticut. Bank of America doesn’t pay any taxes in Connecticut. You’re talking about penny-wise and pound foolish when we could be getting especially inner city kids ready for school,” he said.