Sens. Denise Ricciardi, a Bedford Republican, and Becky Whitley, a Hopkinton Democrat, celebrated the Legislature’s $60.5 million investment for child care and families. Behind them is a mural of some of the artwork preschoolers gave lawmakers in support of the funding. (Annmarie Timmins | New Hampshire Bulletin)
This story was updated Thursday, June 28, 2023 at 10 p.m. to clarify the funding amount for a collection of child care investments.
In May, a group of preschoolers gave lawmakers testimony written in Crayon. Along with dozens of adults, they were urging lawmakers to invest millions of dollars in expanding access to affordable child care.
Their legislative efforts helped pass a budget with $15 million to expand the child care workforce and an additional $45.5 million that increases eligibility for child care assistance to families and reimbursements to providers. On Thursday, some of their artwork, now a mural in downtown Concord, was a backdrop as lawmakers and advocates celebrated their victories.
Sen. Becky Whitley, a Hopkinton Democrat and prime sponsor of the legislation behind the $60.5 million, noted that the state is one of fewer than 10 that does not fund pre-K. Others said there must be an effort to ensure there is access to more affordable, quality child care in all parts of the state.
Whitley said more than 40 child care centers have closed in New Hampshire in the last few years, eliminating 1,500 spots for children. She said that when parents are forced to leave jobs because they have no child care, they and the state suffer.
“The child care crisis isn’t an individual problem for families to solve,” she said. “It’s an economic one that requires us all to come to the table for a solution.”
The $15 million for child care is aimed at recruiting and retaining child care workers. Employers would be able to spend on training and education costs, paid time off for employees, and health coverage. Separate legislation added $6.5 million to the budget for women and new families on Medicaid.
That legislation, dubbed the “MOMnibus bill” provides Medicaid coverage for donated breast milk, lactation services, and doula care during and after delivery.
Sen. Denise Ricciardi of Bedford was the only Republican to join Whitley in sponsoring the “MOMnibus” bill.
“When I came to the New Hampshire Senate, for me it was about doing the best that we can, not about political party,” Ricciardi said. “It’s about thinking of all families across New Hampshire and doing what’s best for them.”
Asked how she got other Senate Republicans on board, Ricciardi said, “I’ve been labeled tenacious. It was a lot of conversations and a lot of work.” She said she intends to continue pushing for more support for families next year.
“Who knows, maybe we’ll have a MOMnibus Two next time,” she said.
Caitlin Loving, a mother of two from Manchester, shared her experience trying to get her infant son into the same child care center that her daughter was attending. The center had no openings, she said, because of staff shortages.
Loving and her husband hired a nanny at what she said was four times the cost of their daughter’s child care.
“I would be lying if I didn’t say that the price tag made me catch my breath,” Loving said. “Every week I thought of parents who would not have been able to incorporate this expense, even for the short term.
She applauded this year’s investments but said it’s critical for lawmakers to understand the impacts of limited child care and to prioritize solutions.
“This has to be just the beginning,” she said. “We need to continue to support parents if we want the state to thrive in terms of economics and communities. Parents cannot work if they do not have reliable child care. Businesses and municipalities cannot function without working parents. The social and economic costs are too high to ignore. Child care is a crucial infrastructure.”
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