NOTE: This "It's Your Business" column by Chamber CEO Erin Predmore was published in the July 8, 2021 Bloomington Herald-Times.
By now you’ve likely heard about the amazing opportunity our community has with the availability of federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA. More than $50 million collectively will be coming to the county, going to Monroe County government (about $29 million), the city of Bloomington (about $22 million) and Ellettsville (about $1.5 million).
Our local government leaders are soliciting input for how to allocate these funds, which are intended to help post-pandemic recovery. I’d like to contribute a suggestion that would make a meaningful, long-term impact on our community: universal child care.
We know the importance of child care in ensuring that our labor force is strong – and if we didn’t know it before, we certainly learned it during the pandemic. Parents struggled to manage their jobs while tending to children who needed attention during the workday.
What’s more, some parents are delaying their return to the workforce because of child care expenses. Depending on your circumstances, child care costs can equal or exceed what you earn, creating a financial disincentive to return to work. This is exacerbating the labor shortage that many businesses are experiencing.
In Indiana, low-income families can get child care vouchers through the Child Care and Development Fund, a federal program. But if you earn even slightly more than their requirements, you don’t have access to that assistance.
High-quality child care has proven to be a marker for successful educational attainment. It ensures that children are ready on the first day of school, because they’ve already learned social skills such as getting along with their peers, paying attention to the teacher, standing in line and sitting quietly. Those may seem like small things, but they’re a crucial foundation for long-term K-12 success.
So how would universal child care work here? Monroe County, the city of Bloomington and Ellettsville could collaborate by contributing a portion of their ARPA funds to a pilot program, so that affordable child care would be available to any Monroe County family. The goal would be to develop a sustainable program that would become a signature part of our community.
Our government entities could partner with nonprofits such as the Community Foundation of Bloomington and Monroe County, which already supports child care access through its Monroe Smart Start initiative (monroesmartstart.org). The foundation recently received a $100,000 grant from Early Learning Indiana to create a regional shared service hub to support local child care providers.
Sliding scale fees could be used to ensure that families pay what they can. A rule of thumb is that child care should cost no more than 10% of a family’s income.
A universal child care program would put Monroe County on the map. It would support working families. It would help businesses attract and retain the talent they need.
By providing such an important foundational opportunity for all children, regardless of their family’s income, universal child care would demonstrate that in Monroe County, we live our values.
Erin Predmore is president and CEO of the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce.
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