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State must act to boost child care

State must act to boost child care

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Nebraska will be dealing with the effects of the pandemic long after the health threat has been alleviated.

A report released this week by the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee shows the extent of the challenges ahead for the state in shoring up its child care system.

The report says that 231 licensed child care providers across the state have permanently closed because of the coronavirus.

Of those responding to the study’s survey, 51% said they probably would close if the pandemic continued or worsened.

One-in-four said their income had been cut by more than 50%.

Nebraska and three other states are tied for having the highest percentage of children with all available parents in the workforce. Parents won’t be able to work full time if they can’t find quality child care for their children.

The study also surveyed more than 1,200 parents and business owners from nearly every county in the state about their experiences related to child care during the pandemic.

More than half of the parents who responded said they had to miss work because of child care and other issues and 43% needed to reduce their work hours because of the lack of child care.

More than three-fourths of the business owners surveyed said they had to make changes to employees’ schedules because of child care issues and 71% said employees had been late or missed work because of child care problems.

Both the parents and employers noted the stress this has created for them.

“Helping Nebraska businesses survive the current economic turmoil is one of the state’s highest priorities,” said state Sen. John Stinner of Gering, the chairman of the Appropriations Committee. “The pandemic has revealed just how foundational the child care industry is to Nebraska’s economy.”

The committee is recommending that the Legislature explore the policy implications of and steps necessary to fund the state’s early childhood care and education system.

It says the state should look into public- and private-sector financing options for the early childhood care and education system. But it also recommends a phased approach for fully funding the system.

This is one of many areas that the Legislature will have to consider funding. There are many issues vying for the senators’ attention, such as public school funding, prison overcrowding, health care and mental health needs. But the report shows how crucial it is that our state government find ways to ensure that child care is available throughout Nebraska for our future.

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