A comprehensive package addressing childcare in New Jersey is Teresa Ruiz first major legislative effort since being named State Senate Majority Leader earlier this year.
Ruiz (D-29) on April 5 rolled out a suite of bills she said would address the needs of providers, employees and parents. The nine pieces of legislation will include Democratic sponsors State Sens. Sandra Cunningham (D-31) Joe Vitale (D-19) and Nilsa Cruz-Perez (D-5).
“We have to rewind, catch children much earlier, make sure that families in the state of New Jersey have access to high-quality, affordable child care and make sure that we recognize that the academic outcomes for children really start in the womb,” Ruiz said. “The key is to start the conversation. There’s a lot of money at stake here. And I think there has to be an all-inclusive discussion with both levels of the legislative branch.”
$350 Million Price Tag
The overall amount for the nine bills comes with a $350 million price tag, which the Essex County lawmaker said could be allocated from the billions New Jersey has not yet spent in federal American Rescue Plan funds.
“These investments will not only benefit our parents and our childcare providers but also our entire state,” said Ruiz. “Access to affordable, high-quality childcare improves outcomes and pays dividends (as) every dollar invested offers a $4-$9 return in individual and community benefits.”
New Early Childhood Department
Among the offerings in the nine bills is tax incentives to employers who provide childcare in their facilities, extending childcare subsidies to families and expanding programs offering preschool programs.
Cunningham highlighted the establishment of the Department of Early Childhood as being “extremely crucial” for the betterment of care and education for infants and toddlers
“The quality of early childhood care greatly impacts the course of one’s life,” said Cunningham. “This legislation, along with the rest of the package, represents a commitment to improving early childhood education in ways that will work to reduce the achievement gap and greatly benefit future generations.”
Suite of Bills
The bill to be introduced are:
- S.2475 (Ruiz/Cunningham) to establish the Department of Early Childhood to provide focused and integrated development of 0 to 5 care and education;
- S.2476 (Ruiz/Vitale) to provide funding for the expansion of infant and toddler seats by 1,000, reimbursed at $22,000 per seat. The grant program would prioritize providers in communities identified as childcare deserts and areas with high percentage low-income families;
- S.2477 (Ruiz/Cruz-Perez) to require new preschool programs or seat expansions to use private providers for at least 50% of their preschool slots;
- S.2478 (Ruiz/Vitale) to extend the enrollment based payment model currently set to expire on June 30 for three years, with a report on the impact at the end of this year and the end of the three years;
- S.2479 (Ruiz) to provide tax incentives to employers who provide childcare in their facilities, reimburse parents for their childcare expenses or contract with private providers so their employees can enroll their children in those childcare programs;
- S.1099 (Vitale/Ruiz) to allow a gross income tax credit for a childcare staff members who have been employed by a childcare provider or worked as a registered family day care provider;
- S.2480 (Ruiz/Vitale) to extend childcare subsidies to families earning up to 300% of the federal poverty line (FPL). Currently, families earning up to 250% FPL are eligible;
- S.2465 (Vitale/Ruiz) to require the Department of Human Services to establish a quality-based reimbursement system for registered family day care providers participating in Grow NJ Kids; and
- SJR.79, a resolution would designate the first full week of April as the “Week of the Young Child” in New Jersey to recognize the importance of high-quality early childhood education that is affordable and accessible.
Vitale said package would bring high quality and affordable child care should be accessible to every family in the state.
“These bills will help provide that accessibility by expanding the state’s child care subsidy program to reach more families in need, while also increasing the number of spots available for infants and toddlers,” said Vitale, chair of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. “Additionally, by providing tax credits for staff members we can help our childcare providers retain the employees they need to ensure a sustainable, high quality workforce.”
Backing from Stakeholders
Advocacy groups and stakeholders joined the state senators for the announcement of the bill package, including representatives from the New Jersey Association for the Education of Young Children and New Jersey Business & Industry Association, expressing their support for the legislation.
“This is a tremendous first step toward building a transformative system of childcare that will improve the lives of young children, their families and early childhood professionals,” stated Meghan Tavormina, NJAEYC President. “While we know there is continued work to do at both the state and federal level to address the true depth and scope of issues, we are excited for such an important first step.”
Alexis Bailey, NJBIA Director of Government Affairs, added “This comprehensive bill package will provide critical assistance to working families, childcare providers and employers who continue to face workforce shortages across our state by creating tax incentives for the business community and grant opportunities for the creation of new childcare slots. ”
Helping Women Return to Workforce
“As we continue to emerge from the pandemic, it is critical that our state has robust childcare options to meet the needs of the workforce, especially mothers who have left the workforce at alarming rates.”
Ruiz made the case that the legislation is needed as a way to give the economy a boost, especially for women who were squeezed out of the job market during the pandemic.
“As we face worker shortages across industries, reducing the cost of childcare will allow more parents to return to the workforce at a time when we need it most,” said the Essex County lawmaker. “This multipronged approach works to tackle this issue from every angle to ensure the maximum impact on our economy and our children.”