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Addressing a different kind of infrastructure: child care

The lack of accessible, affordable and quality child care is often the biggest obstacle to getting workers back in the labor force.

Governor Kay Ivey gave remarks during the Working for Alabama Rollout press conference at the Alabama State Capitol Thursday March 21, 2024 in Montgomery. Governor’s Office/Hal Yeager
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Infrastructure comes in many different forms. 

From roads and bridges to the broadband that delivers powerful internet service, all of it is important to Alabama’s economy and job market. On Tuesday, the head of one of Alabama’s largest manufacturers explained the importance of another kind of infrastructure. 

Child care. 

Like the roads and bridges that employees take to work, few things are more meaningful for getting Alabama workers into the job market than safe, reliable child care – whether that be daycare for young children or after-school care for older kids. 

“Providing high quality, affordable child care is key to maximizing workforce participation,” said Toyota North American executive Karen Johnston. “It not only provides a competitive advantage but it really is the right thing to do. In states where we have on-site where we have on-site child development centers, we have seen improved labor productivity because they don’t have to worry about the availability of quality child care.” 

Alabama lawmakers appear poised to make that a reality in the state, or at least offer lucrative incentives for any business that would like to make it a reality. 

Under a bill sponsored by Alabama House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, and as part of a broader “Working for Alabama” package of legislation designed to up Alabama’s job participation rates, HB358 would provide a $600,000 tax credit for expanding or offering on-site child care. It would also offer incentives for businesses to partner with a qualified daycare or after-school program and would tie the amount of incentives directly to the quality rating for the daycare or program. 

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The cost of the child care initiative would be capped at $25 million for the first three years and then move to $30 million for the next two years, when it will expire unless lawmakers vote to extend the program. 

The bill passed the House on Tuesday 103-0, and it moves to the senate where it will be sponsored by Republican Garlan Gudger, highlighting the legislation’s bipartisan popularity. 

“It’s legislation that helps everyone. It helps the workers so they no longer have to be concerned about finding and keeping quality child care. It helps businesses because it allows them to help their workers,” Daniels said on Tuesday. “We hear from so many people every day who have left jobs or who can’t afford to go back to work because child care is just an astronomical expense.” 

Gudger said recent figures show that more than 85,000 Alabama families lack access to affordable, quality child care. Additional statistics show that it is one of the largest factors affecting Alabama’s low workforce participation rate, which has remained stubbornly low despite one of the best job economies in American history. 

The bill appears to have the support of senate leadership as well, with Senate President Pro Tem Greg Reed praising its intent and fiscally responsible setup. 

“Improving Alabama’s labor participation rate is incredibly important for our state’s economy and future,” Reed said in a statement. “I am supportive of fiscally responsible efforts that provide an incentive and aid for Alabama families to positively reengage in our workforce. Alabama is a wonderful place to raise a family and work. Efforts like these, done responsibly and properly, will further enhance Alabama’s stature as the best place to live in America.”

In addition to incentivizing on-site child care centers, the bill would also offer up to $25,000 for private daycares and other child care services and up to $50,000 annually for nonprofits. The amount each facility would be eligible to receive would be based on the number of children enrolled and its score on a new rating system established by the Department of Human Resources. 

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Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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