[Editor's Note: Diane Temme Stinton, CEO of TMCO in Lincoln, testified before the Nebraska Legislature's Appropriations Committee on LR390, an interim study to assess the fiscal and economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Nebraska's early childhood workforce and the early childhood care and education system. This blog post is adapted from Stinton’s written testimony.]
TMCO is a mid-sized contract metal manufacturing company in Lincoln. We have over 190 employees, but we think of them as 190 families. Just under 40% of our employees have come as immigrants or refugees who seek better opportunities in this country. When our first refugee retired in 2017, he had worked at TMCO for over 30 years. At his retirement, his three successful adult children each thanked TMCO for providing their father employment so that they were able to have opportunities in life. It was then that I really grasped the impact companies can have, not only on employees, but on the next generation.
Through candid conversations with employees over the past few years, I was truly shocked how many were burdened with the cost and the lack of available child care in Lincoln even before the pandemic. There is a pattern to the stories about barriers, waiting lists and shortages. In 2019, TMCO began connecting our working parents of young children to affordable, quality services. We do this through partnership with childhood education programs, providing early enrollment opportunities and by offering a subsidy up to 55% to offset the cost. We are proactive because employees need our help.
91% of counties lack sufficient child care
As an employer, the current child care infrastructure does not adequately support the workforce. This is a crucial issue to address—not only for our company, but for our state as a whole. Nebraska consistently ranks among the top states in the nation for its percentage of working parents with young children. And so, it is highly alarming that 91 percent of Nebraska counties lack sufficient child care slots to meet the current demand.
Young, working parents are a vital segment of our statewide workforce. Nebraska will cease to be an attractive place to work if these parents are forced to make choices between their employment and their families. Our company has seen the loss of valuable employees in situations where the cost of child care exceeded the benefit of employment. Companies are affected by limited child care options. If COVID-19 would threaten closure of child care and early childhood education facilities due to less enrollment, loss of income or for safety reasons, the effect on our workforce would be catastrophic. We cannot afford for these things to happen if we hope to recover from COVID-19 and stay on track for economic growth. We need Nebraska to be competitive, which means our workforce needs access to child care resources.
Addressing the shortage of affordable, quality child care in our state will not be solved by a single entity. LR390 sets the stage for Nebraska’s public and private sectors to work together on this challenge. Together, we can find ways to increase capacity, add child care providers and make quality programs more affordable to our state’s hard-working parents. Our families, employers, communities and our economy depend upon it.
Thank you Senator Stinner for your leadership on this important issue. On behalf of TMCO and Nebraska’s employers, I hope today’s conversation will help point the way toward improving affordability and access to quality child care in our state.
Diane Temme Stinton
September 29, 2020