FILE - Child Care

 

(The Center Square) – A new bill proposal from Senate Majority Leader M. Teresa Ruiz seeks to improve both the quality of and access to early childhood care in the state, with an eye to stimulating a still sleepy post-pandemic economy.

The nine-bill package from Ruiz and co-sponsored by Democratic Sens. Joseph Vitale, Nilsa Cruz-Perez, and Sandra Bolden Cunningham, tackles child care inaccessibility by taking what Ruiz describes as a “multipronged approach.” By providing financial incentives and resources to child care providers, employers, and families, the legislation aims to make child care ubiquitous and to enable more parents to actively participate in the workforce, according to the release.

Senate Bill 2476 allocates $22 million in government grants to eligible providers, the release says. At $22,000 per seat, this means expanding care for 1,000 infants and toddlers across the state. Eligible providers would be those in “child care deserts” – low-income areas where child care options are scarce – or providers that “align their child care center with high quality preschool,” according to the bill.

Senate Bill 1099 would also make providers more attractive to potential employees by offering tax credits to child-care workers who meet a minimum hours-worked requirement.

Tax benefits would also be available via S2479 to employers willing to go the extra mile when it comes to employees’ child care. If an employer is willing to support its employees in creative ways, like providing child care in its facilities or reimbursing parents for their child care expenses – such employers would be eligible for certain tax incentives outlined in the bill.

More families would also be eligible for child-care subsidies, as the S2480 would raise the allowed income level from 250% to 300% of the federal poverty line.

To oversee the administration of all of the other functions the bill package sets forth, S2475 creates a new department for the state, the Department of Early Childhood, for the flourishing of New Jersey’s children ages 5 and younger.

“Access to affordable, high quality child care improves outcomes and pays dividends; every dollar invested offers a $4 to $9 return in individual and community benefits," Ruiz said in the release. "As we face worker shortages across industries, reducing the cost of child care will allow more parents to return to the workforce at a time when we need it most.”