LB1203, which would use a portion of Nebraska’s $1 billion allocation of American Rescue Plan Act (APRA) dollars to strengthen the state’s early childhood system, was heard by the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee this week. The bill was introduced by State Senator Tom Briese (District 41).
LB1203 proposes an investment of $100.5 million across 16 initiatives focused on attracting and retaining talent in the early childhood professional workforce, strengthening child care capacity of Nebraska communities and alleviating pressures on families raising young children. It is a response to fundamental weaknesses in the state’s child care infrastructure, which have been exacerbated by social and economic disruptions brought on by the pandemic. Senator Briese’s opening statement cited a 2020 study published by First Five Nebraska estimating that the lack of child care options cost Nebraska approximately $745 million annually in direct, pre-pandemic losses from reduced family earnings, decreased workplace productivity and lower state revenues.
Testifiers representing the Nebraska, Omaha and Lincoln Chambers of Commerce, Nebraska City Area Economic Development Corporation, Nebraska Economic Developers Association, Nebraska Alliance of YMCAs, Kids Can Community Center, Children’s Respite Care Center and First Five Nebraska spoke in support of the bill. In addition, 58 letters of support were submitted to the Appropriations Committee.
45% turnover in the early childhood workforce
First Five Nebraska Deputy Director Elizabeth Everett commented on the difficulty of keeping talent anchored in the licensed child care workforce, which offers low wages and limited professional benefits in exchange for long hours and a highly demanding working environment. Nebraska ranks sixth in the nation for the percentage of children under age 6 with all available parents participating in the workforce. But despite the state’s heavy reliance on child care services, the average annual earnings of child care professionals are approximately half that of all Nebraska workers ($25,030 vs. $50,260).
These challenges increased over the past two years as the pandemic further destabilized the child care marketplace in the state. Everett cited Bipartisan Policy Center data indicating Nebraska’s child care workforce experienced a staggering 45% turnover between Q1 2020 and Q1 2021. Seven percent of the existing child care workforce in 2020 exited the profession entirely. Nebraska lost 7.4% of its child care programs serving children ages 0-5 between 2019 and September 2021. Everett said each family child care program closure costs a community about 10 to 12 child care slots.
Senator Briese’s comments reflected how dire the situation is throughout the state: “For many communities, the closure of a single program is devastating.”
Chambers of Commerce testify in support
Kristen Hassebrook, speaking on behalf of the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry as well as the Omaha and Lincoln Chambers, noted that child care availability ranked among the top three concerns of respondents in a State Chamber survey conducted in 2021. Hassebrook observed that child care availability is a top consideration for families who are considering relocating, but about 91% of Nebraska communities lack sufficient child care options to meet local demand.
LB1203’s key provisions include:
- Financial recruitment and retention incentives to attract, develop and retain talent in Nebraska’s professional early childhood workforce.
- Resources to improve community child care infrastructure through landscape studies, capacity development planning and the start-up and expansion of local child care programs.
- Scholarships and professional education opportunities for individuals pursuing early childhood degrees, educational attainment bonuses and stipends for students, business education for child care program owners and other supports.
- Financial supports for licensing and administrative requirements including fingerprinting and background checks.
- Resources for families including copayment support for subsidized child care and continuation of the Nebraska Child Care Referral Network, which helps parents locate available child care slots.
“This bill isn’t a silver bullet for our child care problems, but it will help providers and working parents so we can stabilize the industry and pursue long-term solutions,” said Everett.
In the weeks ahead, the Appropriations Committee will consider LB1203 alongside a raft of other bills proposing other allocations of Nebraska’s federal ARPA funds.