JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - The American Families Plan has many pieces but we wanted to look specifically at what it could mean for Mississippi families and child care.
Child care isn’t cheap but it could become more affordable for many under the plan. The proposal calls for low and middle income families to pay no more than seven-percent of their income on child care for kids under the age of five. Those that make 1.5 times their state median income would qualify.
The idea of putting a cap on the cost of childcare could have significant impacts for Mississippi families.
“It’s really helping families who are trying to work. I mean, this is not… I’ve heard a lot of discussion about this being some kind of a support that might be a disincentive for going to work as a public safety net program,” explained Mississippi Low Income Child Care Initiative Executive Director Carol Burnett. “But in fact, it’s a work support program and these are families where the parents are really trying to work and really trying to earn enough money to support their families.”
The Economic Policy Institute estimates that capping child care costs at 7% of income would give more than 9,000 more parents the option to work.
“They would be able then to seek higher paying jobs and they would ask for more hours at work and they would find higher wage earning positions more likely,” noted Dr. Kay Brocato, AAUW-MS President.
Brocato also provided insight into the state’s workforce.
“Women make up nearly half the workforce and mothers are the breadwinners in nearly half of the families with children under 18,” she said.
Child care providers like Deloris Suel say they see how quality care better prepares those young people for school.
“It took a pandemic for us to get recognition,” said Suel. “All these years… When we had to close our centers, that’s when people realized, ‘Oh my God, childcare is valuable.’”
Suel has concerns about how the program would be implemented and hopes providers have a seat at the table in that.
“But if you’re not on the front line doing the job, you don’t understand and that’s what we’ve been faced with a lot,” Suel added. “People look at it as though we’re babysitting but if you came into our center you would see something different.”
While there’s no clear cut information how the funding would be divvied up, Mississippi Senate Minority Leader Derrick Simmons says he hopes it will be a workable solution.
“I am concerned about if it comes in the form of tax credit because it doesn’t give you the liquid cash that you need to pay for services throughout the year and you’ll have to wait until your father taxes to get the money back,” said Simmons.
This proposal would be specific to those families with children under 5 years old.
We should note that this same plan calls for free universal pre-K for all 3 and 4 year olds. Carol Burnett explained that even with pre-K, there are gaps in care because working families don’t always have the flexibility to pick them up from school and then they still need care during breaks from school.
“I just think that the good news is these funds are giving the people of Mississippi the ability to serve so many more eligible families than we ever have had in the history of my career - which is 30+ years of working on this in Mississippi,” added Burnett.