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Op-ed: Early childhood must be a priority in the state budget (Dayton Daily News)

By: Commissioner Carolyn Rice Dayton Daily News

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected our world so much. We learned about the virus sweeping through the world and making its way to our country, and we closed our businesses, schools, and government buildings so we could brace for the effects of the virus.

We, as a nation, learned so many lessons, many the hard way, on how to quickly respond to an enemy we couldn’t see. We also learned through this experience that there are gaps in vital services that must be bridged to effectively care for the people who care for us.

One of those gaps that must be addressed is how we provide child care in our state and around our nation. Access to affordable, quality child care is essential to working families and employers.

At the height of the pandemic when much of our economy was at a standstill, thousands of Ohio child care professionals kept working so first-responders, health care professionals, grocery employees and other essential workers could be on the job. If child care providers had not continued to work during the pandemic, what could the disruption of a small child’s schedule have had on their cognitive and emotional development? Among the families served are those who are employed but cannot possibly pay market-rate for child care, which can cost hundreds of dollars per week for a baby or toddler.

Ohio’s assistance program, “Publicly Funded Child Care,” helps some of these working families afford child care allowing them to stay in the workforce. But the initiative is embarrassingly underfunded and available only to those in the most dire of financial straits.

For example, a mother of two children must earn less than $14 per hour, or under $28,236 yearly, to be eligible.

Those who make above that wage must spend up to one third of their gross income to pay for the care of just one child.

Only two states in the country, Alabama and Indiana, have even more restrictive eligibility rules than Ohio.

Ohio lawmakers will soon write the state’s upcoming two-year budget. Gov. Mike DeWine is proposing raising the subsidized child care eligibility standard from 130% to 138% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL).

While that is a start, it is not nearly enough.

If we moved to 150% of the FPL, an estimated 1,100 more Montgomery County children and some 900 workers would benefit.

Think about what that could mean to citizens struggling to feed and care for their families.

I’m so proud that Montgomery County is investing in children’s early learning through the Preschool Promise program that makes quality preschool more affordable to families with 4-year-olds.

We also have the Imagination Library initiative which provides books to children younger than five, free of charge. Additionally, the County supports the Birth to 3 Collaborative, which brings together agencies that are promoting the health and development of babies and toddlers when their brains are growing the fastest. ...

Children only have one chance at early childhood. We need to seize that opportunity and ensure that all children have access to quality early learning experiences. Carolyn Rice is a Montgomery County Commissioner.


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