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Opinion | Affordable child care keeps us “Working for Alabama”

When parents know that our kids are safe, happy, healthy, and well-cared for, we can give our very best.

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As parents, we want to do the very best for our children. We head to work every day to provide for their care, shelter, food, clothing, education, and everything they need to grow. We strive to advance our careers, take on additional jobs, pursue new opportunities, and save for their futures.

For so many Alabama families none of this is possible without quality, affordable, accessible child care. It gives us the freedom to succeed. But for even more, that freedom is growing further and further out of reach.

As working families shoulder higher price tags on everything from utility bills to groceries, child care has not been immune from rising consumer costs. From 2018 to 2022, the average annual cost of a child attending a center-based preschool in Alabama rose by 11 percent from $5,615 to $6,253, according to the National Database of Child care Prices.

Meanwhile, child care iss considered affordable by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) if it costs no more than 7 percent of a family’s income. But infant care for one child accounts for up to nearly 12 percent of a median family’s income in Alabama. By those standards, about 73 percent of our families cannot afford infant care. Unfortunately, the situation is even more difficult for single parents and those with multiple children.

Even before the pandemic, Alabama, like many states across the nation, was facing a looming child care crisis due to a shortage of workers, low wages, and a lack of investment. But it wasn’t really until our economic recovery that the vital role of child care in the business community was fully realized. Today, in communities and households across our state, child care is finally being recognized as a piece of critical infrastructure – one that is as important as transportation when it comes to growth and prosperity.

After all, you can’t fully commit to a job if you have to care for a child. And for too many of us, child care is just too expensive or located too far away (60 percent of Alabama children live in “child care deserts”). The bottom line is without reliable, affordable, and accessible child care, Alabamians can’t grow their careers, business can’t grow their bottom lines, and our economy can’t grow period.

That’s why I’m introducing legislation, HB358, to establish an employer tax credit and a child care provider tax credit. This bill is part of a bipartisan economic incentive package supported by Governor Ivey and leaders in both chambers called “Working for Alabama.” Under the child care program, employers would have three paths to qualify for the credit: building an on-site facility, partnering with local facilities, or providing a stipend for employee child care expenses.

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They could receive a credit of up to $1 million (with a total cap of $15 million) and child care facilities would be eligible for a credit of up to $25,000 (with a total available credit of $5 million).

This bill is just a start. Child care remains a top priority for the ad hoc committee assembled by Speaker Ledbetter to study Alabama’s labor force participation rates and identify barriers to workforce entry. In addition, boosting investments in child care through tax credits and other incentives was one of the leading legislative recommendations of the Alabama Workforce and Wage Gap Task Force.

Raising children is expensive. From diapers to formula to car seats to new clothes every few months, the costs add up. But it’s also a blessing – one that should inspire us to pursue our greatest potential and loftiest dreams. All the while, we are driven by the hope that one day they will surpass us in success and prosperity – that they will do better than we did.

Like so many parents across Alabama, there’s hardly anything I wouldn’t do for my kids. We’ll work longer. We’ll work harder. And we’ll keep pushing to give them the love, resources, and every advantage available. But first, we need the freedom to do it and the peace of mind that comes with quality childcare. When parents know that our kids are safe, happy, healthy, and well-cared for, we can give our very best to our families, our careers, and our economy.

State Rep. Anthony Daniels is the minority leader of the Alabama House of Representatives.

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