Rowan Kane photo
Claudia Cupe testifies last Thursday at the public hearing (Rowan Kane photo)

Childcare workers and parents descended on Hartford’s Capital Community College last week to voice concerns about wages and proposed changes to a federal program that subsidizes care.

Workers and parents expressed their concerns to the Connecticut Office of Early Childhood, which was receiving public feedback on the proposed changes to the way federal funding will be implemented under President Obama’s Child Care and Development Block Grant Act. Advocates used the opportunity last Thursday to call for an increase in wages for childcare workers.

Ingrid Henlon, who has worked at Mount Olive Day Care in Hartford for 25 years, said that is was “disheartening” and “stressful” to be paid significantly less than others who hold a similar level of education. Henlon holds a bachelor’s degree. Yet, Henlon said she loves the work she does.

“The rewards are beautiful,” she said.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, child care workers — 95.6 percent of whom are women and “disproportionately workers of color” — are paid about $10.31 per hour, which is 39.3 percent less than the median $17 per hour in other occupations.

To put those wages into context, the United Way has published the ALICE Report (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed), which estimates that a family of four — two adults, one toddler, one infant — needs a combined hourly wage of $32.24 to maintain a “Household Survival Budget in Connecticut.”

Apart from increased wages, Merrill Gay, executive director of the Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance, also expressed concern about a restriction in subsidies for unlicensed family providers.

The proposed plan limits the number of unlicensed providers, who are often family members caring for grandchildren or other relatives.

Rowan Kane photo
Merrill Gay, executive director of the Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance (Rowan Kane photo)

Gay said reforming the stipends would hurt a disproportionate number of families.

According to the state, there are 12,843 Connecticut children in regulated facilities who received stipends from the program in November 2015. In the same month, 5,817 children received stipends for unregulated facilities.

The proposed regulations primarily limit stipends for unlicensed relatives caring for children under three years of age and ages three to 12 who require care during “non-standard hours.” Statewide as of November 2015, unlicensed providers were caring for some 4,017 children — those in unregulated care over the age of three. This is the group potentially affected by the proposed plan.

That includes Debra Ashworth, who provides care for her grandchildren while her daughter works “days, nights, and weekends” in the food industry. Ashworth echoed Gay’s concerns and testified that she was the best person to care for her grandchildren. She added that she could not work because of the time she invests in them.

Connecticut has one of the highest rates of unlicensed providers and these providers “are not held to the same health and safety standards” as those with licenses, Diana Lejardi of the Office of Early Childhood, said.

Lejardi said that current regulations do not require unlicensed providers to receive basic health and safety training, like First Aid or CPR, and that the state is responsible for children receiving the federal subsidy.

“This proposal is a significant shift towards increasing the quality of child care and ensuring public child care subsidy funds are invested in quality child care,” Lejardi said.

For full-time care — 35-50 hours per week — of infants and toddlers, child care centers and other licensed providers are reimbursed $201 weekly, whereas unlicensed providers are reimbursed $128. These numbers are for the north-central region that includes Hartford.

The Office of Early Childhood is accepting public feedback on the proposed plan through Jan. 24.