Why Delaware Should Continue to Lean in on Family Supports
As three prominent state leaders wrote this week: “If we are going to build the workforce of tomorrow, we must pass policies that better support workers and their families today.”
Sens. Kyle Evans Gay and Sarah McBride and Lieutenant Governor Bethany Hall-Long were among the lawmakers who helped champion recent policies like paid family and medical leave for thousands of working Delawareans and investments in early childhood education.
“As we continue our transition into a post-pandemic economy, it has perhaps never been clearer that the strength of our state depends on the health and welfare of our workforce,” they wrote. “Delaware made substantial investments in working families over the last two years, particularly the young families whose skills and talents will help us to attract major employers in the decades ahead.”
We should celebrate that progress—and keep going.
The reality for Delaware parents seeking care remains bleak in many parts of the state. Only one in seven children under age five are covered by state funding, which goes to child care programs through Purchase of Care subsidies and to school districts for special education. As providers have said for years, state funding covers only a fraction of their costs to provide high-quality care.
Parents are already expected to pay around 20 percent of a median family income per child for child care—more than some college tuitions. Even before the pandemic, Delaware parents reported that the cost of child care prevents them from taking jobs, getting training, and buying houses. Last year, one in three jobseekers turned down jobs because they could not find affordable child care. And the proprietors and educators running the centers aren’t faring much better. Ninety-six percent of Delaware child care centers reported workforce shortages in the last year.
Delaware’s crisis even hit the national airwaves this fall, with an article from Hechinger Report featuring two local providers.
As Hechinger explains, nearly 90,000 people left the child care industry between February 2020 and August 2022, with another 2,000 leaving between August and September this year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The reason? Providers can only afford to pay workers around minimum wage, with limited benefits.
“We can’t compete with McDonalds offering $15 to $17 an hour to start out,” Toni Dickerson, a resource and referral administrator for Sussex Preschools, told Hechinger. “Pre-Covid we were more worried about getting qualified staff. Now, we’re just trying to get staff.”
Sean Toner of Beach Babies Child Care, which runs four centers across Delaware, told reporter Jackie Mader the waitlist for a spot at one of his centers has ballooned to 1,500 kids. “It was never like this,” he said. “There’s not enough child care in this area to serve the need.”
Advocates are calling for increased state investments to help providers pay their workers and cover the cost of care, statewide and for more families.
The budget ask for next year’s state budget (July 2023-June 2024) is $40 million in state support for Purchase of Care (subsidized child care provided to families who qualify through the Department of Health and Social Services). This would:
- Cover child care providers costs to meet state requirements, like minimum wage and health and safety standards. Several other states have committed to this or are moving in this direction.
- Pay a statewide rate (equivalent in all counties): Kent and Sussex County child care programs currently receive 40 percent less than those in New Castle County—while they face the same costs for staff and supplies. Sixteen states use a statewide rate.
- Increase eligibility for families to 300 percent of the Federal Poverty Level to offset minimum wage increases and to keep up with regional neighbors who are all above Delaware—and especially Maryland and New York, which set their rates at 300 percent.
- Increase Purchase of Care rates for centers serving children with special education needs. Currently, centers serving special needs children receive no additional funds while some receive around five percent more. Other states fund significantly more, with 10 states setting a percentage between five and 50 percent, five states setting a dollar amount ($1-14 dollars per day) and others handling this on a case-by-case basis.
Again, Delaware has made some progress. Last session, the Delaware Department of Education committed to invest in the workforce through bonuses and legislation. Advocates hope to see more of that in the coming year, along with expanded funding for programs serving special needs children.
As the three state lawmakers wrote, “…change will only come when we, as elected leaders, set out a bold vision and prioritize families. We’re committed to this work and to making Delaware the best place to raise kids.”
- Encourage Governor Carney to invest in child care and pre-K
- Speak up at the Office of Management and Budget hearings on November 17 (Department of Education) and 18 (Department of Health and Social Services)
- If you are a parent of a child under at fivein Delaware, please take this short survey—and encourage others to do so!