Home Local News Sen. Charlane Oliver introduces childcare affordability reform

Sen. Charlane Oliver introduces childcare affordability reform

Slate of bills aims to reduce costs, increase availability for working parents

by PRIDE Newsdesk
Sen. Charlane Oliver

Nearly half of Tennessee is a childcare desert and even in places where childcare agencies are available, affordability and workforce shortages can still leave care out of reach for many families.

Tennessee Sen. Charlane Oliver, D-Nashville, is tackling the state’s childcare crisis head-on with a legislative package aimed at lowering costs for working parents, increasing availability, and investing in the state’s underpaid caregiving workforce.

“Childcare and caregiving workers are essential to our economy as they enable parents to participate in the workforce and reach their career potential,” said Sen. Oliver, vice chairwoman of the Senate Democratic Caucus. “Right now, too many parents from working and middle-class families are leaving good jobs because they either don’t have access to high-quality child care or they can’t afford it. If we want to protect our long-term economic success, we need to make sure working families have the tools they need to succeed—and affordable childcare is near the top of that list.”

In 2022, a study that examined Tennessee’s childcare crisis found that inadequate childcare resulted in $1.7 billion annually in lost earnings for parents and $910 million in lost revenue for business owners and taxpayers.

Cost was a driving factor for many families, according to the study. In Tennessee, the average annual price of center-based care, irrespective of quality, was $11,068 and $10,184 for infants and toddlers respectively—more than the cost of tuition at most state colleges.

To support working families and protect our long-term economic success, Sen. Oliver will soon begin introducing a slate of bills targeting the root causes of Tennessee’s childcare crisis.

Make childcare more affordable for working families by increasing eligibility for childcare assistance. Senate Bill 2064, by Sen. Oliver and Rep. Bob Freeman, would increase the number of working families who are eligible to participate in the state’s Smart Steps Program, which provides child care payment assistance. Currently, families are only eligible if they earn 85% of the state median income or less—about $52,000 annually for a single parent. Under this bill, income eligibility would increase to the state median income.

Reasonable childcare co-pays should exist. Senate Bill 2207, by Sen. Oliver and Rep. Karen Camper aims to keep families from falling off the ‘benefits cliff,’ which occurs when a low-income family’s increased income triggers an abrupt loss of childcare assistance that outweighs the boost in pay. The benefits cliff is counterproductive to self-sufficiency, which should be the goal of state policy, Sen. Oliver said. This bill eliminates the state’s Smart Steps Program co-payment fee for families under 150% of the Federal Poverty Line and caps co-payment fees at seven percent or less of household income for families above 150% of the Federal Poverty Line.

Modernize childcare reimbursement formula should be modernized for ‘true costs.’ Senate Bill 1805, by Sen. Oliver and Rep. Jason Powell would modernize the formula used by the Department of Human Services to calculate the cost of childcare. Currently, the department uses a ‘market rate’ formula, which can underestimate the cost of childcare by more than half. For example, the department’s current base reimbursement rate for infants in center-based care is $1,018, which meets the 75th percentile of the most recent market rate survey, based on 2020–21 data of $1,075. However, the estimated true cost of care for infants in center-based care is $2,280. This legislation, Sen. Oliver says, would ensure the department’s reimbursement rate formula includes a ‘true cost’ estimate, resulting in more realistic rates for child care providers.

Senate Bill 2063, by Sen. Oliver and Rep. Bob Freeman would establish a two-part study of low wages in the childcare sector, with one involving a pilot program for childcare workers advancing in their careers and a second that examines compensation throughout the childcare workforce.

Under the two-year pilot program, childcare educators and adults working in early care, who receive public assistance from the state, would continue to qualify for public benefits even when the worker receives a wage increase from their employing childcare agency that pushes them over eligibility thresholds. Sen. Oliver says childcare workers are historically underpaid and the program will test whether public assistance, coupled with salary increases, can help childcare agencies maintain adequate staffing levels, which would, in turn, increase the number of available enrollment slots for children.

The bill would also direct the Tennessee Advisory Committee on Intergovernmental Relations to study childcare worker compensation rates statewide as well as the effectiveness of the two-year pilot program. Researchers would examine the establishment and feasibility of an early educator target compensation scale, the benefits cliff in the cchildcareorkforce, and whether public benefits program eligibility thresholds are in alignment with state program income eligibility requirements.

High-need areas and populations would be targeted with child meal programs and food deserts. Senate Bill 945, by Sen. Oliver and Rep. Harold Love would direct state officials to develop a plan to provide full meals (instead of snacks) to students enrolled in after-school childcare programs that serve children within a USDA-designated food desert. Over 40% of Tennessee families report low or very low food security, and the effects of child hunger can result in poor academic performance as well as long-term physical and mental health issues.

The Municipalities’ Access to Childcare (M.A.T.C.H.) Fund would incentivize local investments in childcare. Senate Bill 1907, by Sen. Oliver and Rep. Torrey Harris, would create the (M.A.T.C.H.) fund that would incentivize municipalities to invest in childcare by matching investments that cities, counties, and metropolitan governments make in programs for children from birth to age three. The fund would pay a dollar-for-dollar matching grant to local governments that make investments in eligible childcare programs either directly or through a local partner organization.

Sen. Oliver will begin next week by introducing pieces of her childcare affordability agenda to committees in the Tennessee Senate.

Related Posts

Leave a Comment