New Jersey Lawmakers, Advocates Urge Action to Avert NJ Child Care Crisis
TRENTON, N.J.— With the first increase in the minimum wage set to rise to $10 an hour on July 1, lawmakers, advocates, child care providers and families are urging Governor Murphy and legislative leadership to take immediate action to increase the state child care subsidy investments, or risk centers serving fewer families, reducing staff hours or even closing their doors entirely.
“Child care workers have an enormous responsibility, nurturing and educating the children of New Jersey families. The additional compensation due to the minimum wage increase will be a tremendous lift for child care workers, but the reality is that providers will be unable to pay them without more state support. Higher wages for child care workers must come with higher state investment,” said Cecilia Zalkind, Advocates for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ) president and CEO.
At today’s news conference, ACNJ delivered a petition today with more than 1,100 signatures from child care providers and supporters, calling for $19 million in additional child care subsidy funding to be included in the FY2020 state budget before the June 30 deadline.
In response to this petition, Senator Joe Vitale (D-Middlesex) has announced that he will sponsor a budget resolution to address this urgent issue.
"More than 1,100 New Jerseyans, including child care directors, staff, families and supporters of young children have signed a petition, urging the need for additional state dollars to support child care. Making sure that those dollars are included in the proposed state budget so that parents can work and child care centers can remain open must be a state priority," Vitale said.
Increasing the minimum wage without increasing payments for child care providers will contribute to a crisis in child care affordability and access. More than 3,000 child care centers in the state accept subsidy (state assistance to pay for child care for children up to age 13) and nearly 50,000 children are eligible for subsidized child care.
“Many child care providers like me, who serve low-income working families rely on state subsidy payments for the majority of their children. However, the amount has never been enough to meet the true cost of providing quality care. This means that we are already operating on thin margins and will be left to make impossible choices if we need to raise wages without an increase in the subsidy payment,” said Heidi Zaentz, Director of the Monmouth Day Care Center in Red Bank.
Center-based child care is often a child’s first formal educational experience, making the most of the once-in-a-lifetime developmental window when critical traits and social skills are nurtured. Yet child care teachers and assistants have historically been some of the lowest wage-earners in our state. Although a quarter of child care workers earn $9.62 an hour or less, the majority of a licensed center’s operational budget – 65 percent – are labor/staff-related.
State licensing regulations ensure appropriate staffing ratios for child care safety. Providers cannot pass the added costs of wage increases to families already struggling with the high cost of care.
Based on cost estimates from ACNJ’s study on child care budgets and a federal cost calculator, ACNJ estimates that increasing the minimum wage to $10 an hour will raise overall costs for centers around 7 percent, or roughly $19 million in additional state funding simply to keep pace with the rising wage.
Higher increases will be needed as the minimum wage rises to $15 in the future. At $15 per hour as the minimum wage, child care centers would absorb a roughly 34 percent increase in costs from the base year.
“If the state is serious about its commitment to helping working families and providing a strong start to all its children, it cannot shortchange an investment in subsidy rates. Otherwise, the children we care for and nurture everyday will lose out on the high-quality child care that they need to grow and develop,” said Winifred Smith-Jenkins, Director of Zadie’s Early Childhood Center in East Orange.
ACNJ also gathered more than 300 parents and young children immediately after the news conference to participate in Strolling Thunder New Jersey, a rally in front of the Statehouse annex to bring attention to what young children need to thrive: a comprehensive approach that supports families at every developmental stage, including strong families, healthy starts and positive early learning environments.
Strolling Thunder is the flagship advocacy event of the Think Babies™ campaign, part of a national effort from ZERO TO THREE designed to bring attention to the many issues that affect what babies and families need to thrive.
ACNJ’s birth-to-3 campaign priorities:
Affordable, Quality Child Care. We need to make sure every family has access to quality, affordable child care for their infants and toddlers, providing a strong foundation for early learning.
Paid Family Leave. We need to give parents dedicated time to bond with their babies in the earliest months, when so much of their development is at stake.
Family Support through Home Visitation. We need to reach families where they live by providing expectant parents and parents of young children with essential supports to help nurture positive parent-child relationships and overall health and well-being.
Healthy Social-Emotional Development. Much like physical development, we need to foster a baby’s social and emotional health by ensuring resources and services are available to address their mental health.
“At ZERO TO THREE, we are so pleased to see the immense progress Advocates for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ) is making for infants and toddlers as part of the Think Babies campaign,” said Myra Jones-Taylor, chief policy officer at ZERO TO THREE. “With the majority of babies spending part or all of each day in non-parental care, we must prioritize the quality and cost of the child care they receive. After all, those babies are New Jersey’s future scientists, teachers, journalists and leaders.”
About Advocates for Children of New Jersey Advocates for Children of New Jersey is a statewide child research and action organization. They work with local, state and federal leaders to identify and implement changes that will benefit New Jersey's children. For more information, visit acnj.org.
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