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MOSQUERA: Quality, affordable childcare must be available for New Jersey families

By Assemblywoman Gabriela Mosquera

As a mother, I understand on a personal level just how important it is for parents to know their child will be well taken care of. The peace of mind that comes with knowing your child is in good hands helps ease the anxieties of separation.

While many parents would love to be there every step of the way during their child’s formative years, many must work to provide for their families. In 2015, 65 percent of American children under the age of 6 had all available parents in the workforce, according to the Kids Count Data Center.

That is where childcare and early childhood education centers come into play. A 2013 Census report found that 23.5 percent of American children under the age of 5 are in some type of organized care facility.

A well-trained, adequately funded and sufficiently staffed center can offer a safe environment that provides children with the supervision, education and socialization they need.

The Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development states that quality childcare is related to better cognitive and social development of all children. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine explains, what happens during the first few years of a child’s life “sets either a sturdy or fragile stage for what follows.”

This is why improving the quality of childcare in New Jersey is so important. Our children and their futures depend on it.

In the fall, I will propose a three-bill legislative package aiming to raise the standards of childcare in licensed centers, encourage centers to work together to provide certain services and increase access to childcare for more families in the state.

Providing tax credits to highly-rated childcare centers would encourage them to maintain their standards while incentivizing others to make child welfare their top priority.

One of the bills would allow licensed childcare centers that receive three, four or five stars from the standardized rating system, Grow NJ Kids, to be awarded a tax credit in an amount contingent on their rating.

Another bill would allow licensed childcare centers to share certain services. By combining human resources, IT, maintenance and more, these organizations would be able to streamline their efficiency and reduce costs over time. The additional money saved can be used to bolster services and childcare.

However, these improvements won’t matter unless parents have access to those quality childcare centers.

According to a 2015 Economic Policy Institute issue brief, the cost of childcare exceeds the cost of rent for most two-child families. Childcare is one of the biggest expenses in a family’s budget and is especially unaffordable for minimum-wage workers.

Issues with childcare accessibility force millions of parents every year to make career sacrifices such as quitting their jobs, according to the Center for American Progress.

The third bill I will propose will help more families afford the childcare they so desperately need.

It would modify the eligibility criteria for state-subsidized childcare assistance, so that a family’s income can be 300 percent (or less) of the federal poverty level as opposed to the current 250 percent. That would mean a family of four would now be able to make up to $77,250 per year as opposed to around $64,400 to be eligible for assistance.

Furthermore, the bill would ease the transition for families who no longer qualify for this assistance. Rather than the usual ‘cliff effect’ — where a family has financial aid one day and absolutely none the next — families would receive 50 percent of their previous childcare subsidy for the next 90 days. This would help them adjust to their new childcare expenditures, especially if they only make slightly over the income limit.

It is evident the quality and affordability of childcare must be improved for families throughout our state, and I truly believe taking these steps will help make that possible.

My efforts will not stop here. I will continue to work in Trenton on improving the safety and well-being of our children while increasing access to the tools parents need to ensure their children attain the prosperous and successful lives they deserve.

Assemblywoman Gabriela Mosquera represents the state’s fourth legislative district.