(Updated 1:37 p.m.) A year’s tuition at the University of Connecticut costs roughly $8,000, which is about $3,000 less than the average annual cost of childcare, according to a study commissioned by U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy.
Based on the results of the study, which mirrors similar studies conducted by the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies, Murphy and state Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, visited a Hartford child care center Wednesday to call the current system “insufficient.”
The politicians spoke to the media—and a gang of 4-year-olds—at the playroom of the Capitol Child Development Center on Hartford’s Broad Street, a block from the Capitol building where many of the children’s parents work.
The cost of childcare is about 17 percent of the median household income in the state, nearly twice what the federal Department of Health and Human Services says is the “maximum affordable cost of childcare,” the survey found.
“Frankly whether you make $25,000 a year, or $100,000 a year, $11,000 on childcare is too much for too many families. And it’s causing a lot of families to really go through some gut wrenching decisions,” Murphy said.
Murphy, who has two children of his own, also announced plans to introduce a new piece of federal legislation that he hopes will double the $5,000 maximum that employers can provide to their employees in tax-free flexible spending accounts.
Murphy said that in 1986, when Congress capped these accounts at $5,000, that money probably would have covered the cost of childcare, but the cost has skyrocketed since then.
The legislation will most likely not be voted on this year, Murphy said, but rather next year when the Bush tax cuts expire and Congress tackles tax reform on a large scale.
The bill, Murphy said, would also require that the Flexible Spending Account cap be adjusted from year-to-year for inflation.
“Everything costs more in this state, so it just costs more for a facility like this to provide good child care. So we just have to recognize that in a higher cost state, we’re going to have higher child care costs, and the Federal Government has to do something to help families,” Murphy said.
While Congress seems locked in partisan gridlock, the state legislature is trying to move forward with improving access to early childhood education by increasing funding and the number of preschool slots for 3 and 4 year olds.
Both of the center’s co-directors said that they are pleased with the increased funding for early childhood education in Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s education reform package.
“I’ve been almost 38 years in the field and we were moving so forward and it was wonderful. [But] in the last 10 years we’ve seen so many changes, we’re going in the wrong direction,” Carol Sinicrope, one of the center’s co-directors, said.
On the state level, Bye said she would like to see changes to the “Care4Kids” program that provides childcare subsidies to low and moderate income families in Connecticut. Currently, Bye said, women who go on maternity leave would lose their subsidy, and on occasion would not be able to return to work because of the high cost of child care.
There is a bill moving through the legislature allows mothers on maternity leave to be eligible for up to 12 weeks, provided they intend to return to work.
The bill has passed through the Appropriations Committee and is headed to the Senate.