Virginia Legislators Introduce Measures to Address Child Care Affordability in the Long Term

Virginia policymakers are searching for solutions to the issue of affordable child care as federal relief funds begin to dwindle.

Jess Mullins Fullen, a mother of two from Southwest Virginia, shared her own struggle with the cost of child care. She and her husband both work full-time to cover the expenses.

“There are bigger issues in the world, but workforce support and child care is one of those things where if I’m feeling the impacts — and I can admit that I have certain privileges because of my job and because I’m able to stay at home — I can’t imagine what it’s like for people who don’t have that same kind [of] fluidity when it comes to their workspace,” said Mullins Fullen.

Now, legislators and Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration have proposed a variety of bills and budget measures to address the lack of funding for early childhood education and child care. These proposals aim to increase funding, expand program eligibility, and support child care providers.

Del. Briana Sewell, D-Prince William, who serves on the House Early Education Subcommittee, emphasized the bipartisan effort to ensure access to child care for all individuals seeking it.

A report by Virginia’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission highlighted the unaffordability of child care for many families in the state, especially those with low incomes. The cost of full-time child care in Virginia ranges from $100 to $440 per week per child, or $5,200 to $22,880 annually for one child, according to the report.

The Century Foundation, a progressive think tank, has found that the average annual cost of child care nationally is $10,000 for one child, and even higher in some states, reaching $15,000 to $20,000.

Rising inflation has further worsened the situation, and the actual costs for parents may exceed the estimates, as many providers charge additional fees on top of tuition.

Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper, expressed concern that the focus has been on subsidizing child care without considering the economic conditions that contribute to the high costs.

Increasing the flow of funding to child care and early childhood education

Gov. Youngkin’s budget proposal for the next two years includes significant spending on child care and early childhood education to address the gaps left by expiring federal programs. The proposal allocates $448 million annually for Virginia’s early learning and child care programs, along with $25 million to develop public-private partnerships in areas with child care shortages.

The budget also includes $173 million in fiscal year 2025 and $238 million in fiscal year 2026 for the state’s Child Care Subsidy Program.

The General Assembly is considering two bills, House Bill 419 and Senate Bill 54, that aim to address long-term child care needs by creating a funding formula to determine the minimum funding and number of slots required in Virginia every two years. These bills also propose the establishment of a nonreverting Early Childhood Care and Education Fund.

Expanding program eligibility

Legislation has been introduced to expand the number of families eligible for state assistance for child care. House Bill 407 would automatically qualify families receiving government support through programs like Medicaid or WIC for the Child Care Subsidy Program through categorical eligibility. House Bill 627 would allow employees of licensed child care providers to participate in the program at no cost. House Bill 984 proposes the study of expanding the availability of Head Start programs at community colleges.

Bolstering the provider pool by removing certain requirements and offering incentives

Several bills aim to increase child care availability by removing certain requirements for providers and offering incentives. House Bills 146 and 739 would exempt child care providers serving on military installations or providing care to service members from state licensure requirements. House Bill 475 would allow volunteers to work in certain child care centers before completing their full background check. House Bill 1024 aims to minimize pre-service training requirements for child care employees. However, a bill exempting religious institutions from obtaining a state license to run a child day center faced opposition due to concerns about regulation and accountability. Senate Bill 13 and House Bill 281 propose using office buildings for child care centers.

Proposals also include an incentive program, RecognizeB5, for early childhood teachers who work at least 30 hours per week.

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