February 10, 2022

Florida Has an Opportunity to Make Child Care More Affordable

When the U.S. House of Representatives approved the federal Build Back Better (BBB) Act in November 2021, the measure included a historic investment in universal and free preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds. This groundbreaking provision would have provided relief to working families across Florida, who continue to struggle with the sky-high cost of quality child care and finding available care. Consistent low wages have driven a significant early learning teacher shortage. 

Although BBB is currently stalled in the Senate and it is unclear if the language around child care will remain intact, other federal COVID-19 relief measures signed into law contain significant funding for child care, as Florida Policy Institute noted in a recent blog post. There was $3.3 billion across the three major relief bills for Florida’s child care sector and family assistance. Nearly all these funds were earmarked for either financial support for child care providers or increased funding for School Readiness vouchers and similar family-directed aid. 

Approximately $1 billion remains to be allocated in American Rescue Plan Act dollars for child care in Florida. There is plenty of room to drive investments in a way that reflects the priorities of Florida’s early learning community, including lifting strict income eligibility limits for child care assistance.

Additionally, on the state level, there are efforts underway to make more families eligible for child care assistance: Rep. Angie Nixon has sponsored legislation (HB 1319) to increase the income eligibility threshold for Florida’s School Readiness program, which provides subsidies for child care to working families with low-incomes. The measure would, among other things, increase the eligibility limit to 70 percent of state median income, or $54,109 for a family of four (up from $39,750 in current law). On February 7, 2022, the bipartisan bill passed out of its first committee with unanimous support. If passed, ARPA dollars would be a perfect way to infuse funding into Florida’s School Readiness program so that more parents can participate and waitlists are kept low even with the broadened eligibility included in HB 1319. 

Approximately $1 billion remains to be allocated in American Rescue Plan Act dollars for child care in Florida

Barriers to quality, affordable child care not only negatively impact the development of Florida’s youngest children — they also hurt workers, employers, and the economy. Research bears this out:

  • A U.S. Census Pulse survey of Floridians taken December 29, 2021, to January 10, 2022, revealed that 340,999 Floridians were not working “because they were caregiving for children not in child care or school.”
  • In 2020, the labor participation rate for women aged 25-54 in Florida dropped to its second lowest point since 1987. 
  • Businesses in the U.S. annually lose an estimated $12.7 billion because of barriers to accessible, affordable child care.

Bold, sustained policy efforts and political courage are required to improve what many have labeled a child care crisis. This crisis affects children’s futures, parents’ abilities to engage in the workforce, and businesses’ ability to retain workers. It is in the best interest of all of Florida to unify in a response to address it.

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Improving Access to Quality Early Learning and Child Care

Thriving families and a stable economy rely on quality, affordable child care

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