Testimony: Expanding Access to Child Care (LD 1061)
Testimony in Support of LD 1061: “An Act to Increase the Number of Children a Family Child Care Provider May Care for Without Having to Be Licensed by the Department of Health and Human Services”
Senator Baldacci, Representative Meyer, and the distinguished members of the Committee on Health and Human Services, my name is Nick Murray and I serve as director of policy for Maine Policy Institute. We are a free market think tank, a nonpartisan, non-profit organization that advocates for individual liberty and economic freedom in Maine. Thank you for the opportunity to testify on LD 1061.
Maine is clearly in a child care crisis, a situation that has gone from bad to worse in the last four years. Policy leadership from Gov. Mills and her allies in the legislature have not made child care more available or affordable for families. They have passed up opportunities to reduce barriers for providers, and instead piled on more requirements. This has led to a staggering loss of child care providers of all sizes across Maine—nearly 25% since 2008. Washington, Oxford, Androscoggin counties have each lost at least 30% of all providers since then.
The effects of state regulation are evident. As restrictions on child care spaces, staff, and programs piled up, Mainers lost access to 48% of the family-based care providers available in 2008. Every county has lost at least 36% of family care providers, while Waldo, York, Lincoln, Knox, and Hancock have lost more than half, since 2008. This is especially devastating to working families, because family care is 40-50% cheaper than center-based care on average.
While child care capacity in Maine has grown slightly compared to February 2020, these slots are concentrated in fewer providers and within more expensive center-based care. Instead of a broader array of options, the market has consolidated into fewer, larger firms which can withstand the regulatory burden imposed by the state. High prices tell us that capacity alone is not enough to satisfy the market. Mainers need more care options in more areas of the state.
Child care is truly essential. Like education, it is foundational to Maine’s economy. A 10% decline in the availability of child care services corresponds with a reduction of employment among single mothers by 3-4% and up to 6% for married mothers. When parents exit the workforce to care for their children, families in the U.S. lose $28.9 billion in wages every year.
A vibrant market of family child care providers is important because it allows working parents a lower cost option than center-based providers. Especially in more rural areas of the state, where economic opportunities are limited, parents of small children need as many options as possible in order to make ends meet.
Allowing a neighborhood babysitter to watch three children without becoming a licensed provider is truly the least the state can do to support the availability of child care. Maine is in the minority of states which require family care licensure for those watching under four children. The latest report from the National Center on Early Childhood Quality Assurance, published in July 2022 with data as of December 2020, found that 28 states set the threshold for licensure at four or more children which are not under the provider’s guardianship.
The fact is, Mainers lived at the four-child threshold policy for at least a year, during the State of Civil Emergency, with no measurable health and safety issues. Yet, nonsensically this order was both instituted during the pandemic, and rescinded, because of health and safety.
LD 1061 would bring Maine’s family care regulations more in line with national norms and give Maine’s child care entrepreneurs an easier path to success. For the benefit of all working families, please deem it “Ought To Pass.” Thank you for your time and consideration.