Mainers launch campaign for guaranteed child care for kids and home care for seniors
Parents, policy experts, Maine state legislators and advocates for children and the elderly gathered at Roots and Fruits Preschool in South Portland on Monday to unveil the details of a new campaign to create a universal family care system in Maine, including guaranteed child care services for families with young children and universal access to home care services for seniors and Mainers with disabilities.
The system would be designed to enable families with children under four years old to enroll, free of charge, in home-based or center-based child care programs through a voucher system. All families in Maine would also be able to access home care services for seniors and people with disabilities. The system would be funded by a payroll tax on annual income over $118,000.
“Before my son entered kindergarten he was on a waiting list for Head Start for 23 months. For six months I had to bring my son into work with me during my shift so that I wouldn’t lose my job. It took me another six months to find a sitter I trusted and could rely on,” said Tabatha Whalen, a mother of three living in Portland. “It was such a relief to get help, but it made me feel like I was failing as a parent. I know I’m not alone in feeling this way. I have so many friends and coworkers that face similar child care problems with few, if any, affordable options.”
Currently, the cost of child care in Maine is equivalent to a year’s worth of tuition at the University of Maine. At the same time, the number of Mainers over the age of 65 is expected to double over the next two decades, meaning over 110,000 more people will require aging services.
“The way our child care system is funded is fundamentally flawed. In this country, and only in this country, child care is completely left up to the private market. For the average family, they are on their own. If you can pay and get in, great, but if you can’t, you’re out of luck,” said Lori Moses, executive director of the Catherine Morrill Day Nursery in Portland. “If we really want children to reach their potential and fulfill the jobs of the 21st century, then we must find a different way to support children, families, the workplace and our economy. The Universal Family Care Plan is a roadmap of providing support in raising families at the beginning and end of life and for reimbursing some of the lowest paid workers who have a difficult, yet important role in our society.”
“My work as a homecare aid means that seniors and persons with disabilities can stay home – closer to their family and friends, remain in the comfort of their home, and receive care in a more personal and non-institutional manner,” said Mirkka Lyons of Boothbay Harbor, who has worked in the home care industry for more than 14 years. “Unfortunately it’s an imperfect system. Low pay, constant turnover, and a long qualification process means that we are often unable provide the level of care that many seniors need. This plan would make sure no one is left out or left behind. Just as critically, it acknowledges the important, difficult work of caregivers like me and starts to address some of problems affecting our industry.”
Lawmakers at the press conference announced plans to introduce detailed legislation to fully implement a universal family care system by 2021.
“I am happy and proud to be the sponsor this session of legislation that will provide universal family care to meet the needs of all Maine families, regardless of income,” said Representative Drew Gattine of Westbrook. “We know these problems exist and we know how important it is to solve them. Yet we nibble around the edges and – instead of really helping – we use our seniors and our kids and our neighbors with disabilities as political cannon fodder and do very little to solve the real problems they face every day.”
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