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ICYMI: Senator Shaheen Introduces Bipartisan Legislation to Address Granite State Child Care Shortage Crisis

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), a senior member of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, is introducing bipartisan legislation to respond to the shortage of child care availability in the Granite State, including at military installations. This bill proposes a first-of-its-kind Department of Defense-led pilot program to support workforce development opportunities for child care providers and to add capacity to the child care sector by increasing recruitment, retention and training of child care staff. You can read more about Shaheen’s effort in NBC News.  

The full article is available here and below:

New bipartisan bill seeks to tackle national child care shortage with help from the Pentagon

Legislation from Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Joni Ernst would launch a pilot program to help child care providers near military installations train and recruit staff members. 

WASHINGTON — As the country faces a shrinking supply of child care workers and higher costs of care, a bipartisan duo of senators is taking steps to address the shortage, specifically targeted at helping service members who face unique challenges trying to access reliable child care. 

Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, will introduce the Expanding Child Care for Military Families Act on Thursday, proposing a first-of-its-kind Defense Department-led pilot program to help child care providers near military installations train, recruit and retain staff members. The goal would be to boost the availability of care, for both military members and local civilians, by increasing workforce development opportunities for workers in the industry, using the Defense Department’s already existing resources. 

“We have a workforce shortage, and to the extent that people look at the challenges of family life in the military — child care is one of those challenges, and that’s a deterrent for people to join the military. Anything we can do to address that is really important,” Shaheen said in an interview Wednesday. 

The legislation would enable the Defense Department to enter into partnerships with both private and public child care centers on or near military installations and require it to participate in recruitment and retention programs for child care providers at participating centers. 

Ernst, the first female combat veteran in the Senate, said the legislation is personal. “As a mom and a new grandma, I know it takes a village to raise a child and that our military members need high-quality, affordable child care for their young ones,” she said. “By boosting training and recruitment efforts, this bipartisan bill will ensure military kids are safe and loved while their parents diligently train and prepare to protect our nation.” 

To further close the worker gap, the bill would also allow the Pentagon to work with AmeriCorps, a government agency for national service, to place its volunteers at participating child care facilities, and it would encourage the Pentagon to train and recruit military spouses to join the industry. 

“That’s one of the biggest challenges right now,” Shaheen said of the staffing shortage. “One of the reasons that’s such a challenge is because the pay scale for child care teachers is so low, and often benefits are not provided for people, as well. So I think we need to think about all the ways that we can be creative to figure out how to get more people in the field.” 

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the federal government spent $24 billion to help keep child care facilities afloat, but the funding expired in September, leaving many providers who relied on it unable to make ends meet. 

A recent survey from the National Association for the Education of Young Children found that more than half of child care centers’ directors and operators reported staffing shortages. 

Cora Hoppe, the director of Rochester Child Care Center, a nonprofit center in New Hampshire that would partner with the Defense Department if the new bill passes, said the provider shortage is particularly felt among families of service members, who deal with frequent moves that bring a unique set of challenges for parents. 

“It can be harder for service members because of how far away [child care] can be from a base or if they don’t have access to it on an active base,” Hoppe said in an interview Tuesday. “It’s just an extremely important partnership, because when you have uncertainty everywhere else, it’s nice to have a certain partnership to help support you through that.” 

The Rochester Child Care Center serves five to 10 military families at a given time and takes in military subsidies to help with expenses, but Hoppe said budgetary constraints and high operating costs recently caused her to have to let go of a quarter of her staff. 

“There’s no wiggle room. There’s absolutely none. I’m in the classroom constantly. I have workers call out because they have sick kids. It’s all over the place,” she said. 

Hoppe said that if she had access to additional resources from the Defense Department, she would have been able to hold on to her staff. 

“The DoD’s backing would be huge, because then it would allow us to build our capacity,” she said. 

“Right now, we’re all in silos. So to have a DoD program available, I think it could bring together more of the child care industry. It would bring us in less siloed positions and give us opportunities to work more together in order to collaborate to support these types of families.” 

Shaheen, who has pushed for several measures to ease the burden for both parents and child care facilities, said she will continue to advocate for more accessible and affordable child care. 

“We’ve got to be flexible in thinking about how we respond to the child care needs of families, that we need to provide options. There’s not a one-size-fits-all, and I think that’s particularly true for military families,” she said. 

“I think this is an issue that there is no one magic silver bullet answer, and so we need to look at a whole variety of things. That’s why this kind of a pilot program would be really helpful,” she said.