Senator Osten, Representative Walker, and Members of the Appropriations Committee,
Thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony in support of House Bill No. 6659, specifically with regards to long-term funding for Family Child Care Incubators as developed in Public Act No. 21-171.
I am the President of United Way of Western Connecticut, which represents a 15-town region that includes Stamford, northern Fairfield County including Danbury, and Southern Litchfield County including New Milford. We support hard-working households called ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) to help ensure that they have every opportunity to succeed and thrive in Connecticut. ALICE families make more than the federal poverty limit but not enough to afford basic necessities like housing, food, child care, healthcare, transportation, etc. Across our state, pre-pandemic, more than 1 in 3 families live at the ALICE threshold or below.
Affordable, licensed child care continues to be a pressing need in our community with Family Child Care Businesses playing a critical role in the early childhood system and our state’s economy. Across Western Connecticut, there is a pressing need for high-quality, affordable infant and toddler care. Data shows that 75.3% of Danbury’s children under the age of 5 have all parents in the workforce, but Danbury-based childcare centers and Family Child Care (FCC) programs only have the capacity for 50% of the children in need. We estimate that Danbury is short nearly 1,800 licensed care slots for children under 5 and of the current slots, only 14% are subsidized for infants and toddlers. This places ALICE families at serious risk of having to choose between leaving their children in unlicensed care in order to work, or not working at all.
In 2018, we launched Cora's Kids' Early Childhood Care and Education Initiative to address this crisis and expand the number of affordable child care spots by providing licensing and professional development support to child care providers. Today, United Way’s Early Child Care Initiative serves more than 90 providers and hundreds of families across Greater Danbury and Greater New Milford.
For many potential providers, one of the biggest challenges to entering the business and becoming licensed is finding physical space. Many women lease their place of residence and are denied the opportunity to open their own licensed child care business because of landlord restrictions. As a result, providers continue to operate without their license or not at all, leaving a devastating gap in available and affordable, quality child care slots.
In 2021, the Legislature passed Public Act 21-171 An Act Concerning Issues Relating to the Provision of Early Childhood Education and Services in Connecticut. The bill included the establishment of pilot Family Child Care Incubator businesses in seven cities including Bridgeport, Danbury, Hartford, New Britain, New Haven, Stamford, and Waterbury, all cities with low-to-moderate-income working families who cannot find affordable, quality child care.
By creating child care incubators in existing facilities, providers are able to more easily launch their family child care business. Building on the existing Cora’s Kids Early Childhood Care and Education Initiative, the Incubator would provide a single hub for multiple providers to receive licensing and professional development support services, including how to start and run a business, classes in early childhood education, First Aid, nutrition, and more. They also would provide a place for this community of providers and parents to come together to grow and address community needs and parenting challenges.
The legislation calls for an innovative approach to expanding family child care businesses by allowing child care businesses to operate in non-residential settings. Family Child Care Incubator businesses make starting a family child care business possible and address the child care shortage. However, the legislation does not include funding. For organizations in the seven pilot cities, funds must be raised independently of the State, which makes the likelihood of success much smaller.
We have recently begun a study in Danbury to determine the feasibility of moving forward to launch a Child Care Incubator. We know that there is demand among both providers and families for such an initiative and are eager to move forward with planning but are constrained by available funds. Organizations across the state in the remaining cities that are in similar exploratory or launch phases are in the same position, searching for funding to move this critically important work forward. The Office of Early Childhood is very supportive of this innovative approach to expanding child care in Connecticut and extends the full support of their licensing division and other department resources.
I am here to ask your support for funding for the Pilot Incubator Projects in the seven cities and require the Office of Early Childhood to include Family Child Care Incubators in existing funding streams, specifically the dollars allocated for “early child care pilots” and expansion of infant toddler slots. Without allocated OEC funding resources or technical assistance, this new program will not succeed and we will miss a real opportunity to address the glaring child care crisis that exists in our state. Please support funding for the Family Child Care Pilots included in PA 21-171.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify on this important issue.
President, United Way of Western Connecticut