Westport-Weston YMCA’s conference room was filled on Friday to hear U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy discuss how he plans to address the rising costs of child care in the state and across the country.
Murphy was joined by state Sen. Will Haskell, state Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, Westport Selectwoman Melissa Kane and other local dignitaries for the meeting.
“For me, it’s an honor to get to introduce Senator Murphy because I feel like every time I do it is because he is fighting so hard for the things we care about as women, as mothers,” Kane said. “Not just fighting, but really a vocal champion for preventing gun violence, for safeguiding women’s rights and healthcare for everybody.”
According to Kane, Connecticut residents are among the top five states paying the highest costs for child care. In July, Murphy and U.S. Rep Rosa DeLauro introduced legislation titled the Child Care Flex Spending Act, which aims to to help families pay for child care.
“It will not only double the flex spending account limits from $5,000 to $10,000 it’s also going to widen the scope to include low-income working families with various child care benefit programs and tax credits,” Kane said.
Murphy said during his tenure he has had numerous stories of parents facing insurmountable odds to cover child costs.
“We need to recognize if we don’t take on this challenge at the federal level and at the state level seriously we’re going to be bankrupting families,” he said.
The problem could also lead to a deadly cycle, Murphy said. Child care providers would attempt to keep expenses low to do what’s right, but he said this could cause them to pay employees lower than their value. However, the employees themselves could then find difficulty affording child care.
“This is a big multiheaded problem that has to have a multilevel, multisystemic solution,” Murphy said, adding his legislation is one of many needed solutions.
The Child Care Flex Spending Act would allow any employee who makes less than $150,000 annually to set aside up to $10,000 pre-taxes each year to help pay for child care. On average, Murphy said child care costs $15,000 annually.
“There’s a variety of means by which we need to attack this problem,” Murphy said.
While Murphy acknowledged his family did not face a cost crisis like others, they have tried a variety of methods to find a solution that best fits them.
“Having lived the experience I know how difficult it is and how impossible it must feel if you’re making $30,000 or $50,000 a year,” Murphy said.
Many in the room noted child care creates a burden in other areas, which ranged from women facing domestic violence to teacher wages. Steinberg said holistic problem-solving approaches are needed so federal programs can provide better criteria for those in need.
“We’re very frustrated at the state level because we don’t control those things we just administer whatever that criteria might be,” he said. “Often times there are even caps or limits on how many can participate.”
For Haskell, the business community needed to have a larger role in early childhood care.
He said gaps in math and reading skills emerging by the third grade in different communities showed a clear problem of accessibility.
“If we’re going to make sure Connecticut has that talented diverse tech-savvy workforce, it’s got to start earlier,” Haskell said. “The business community, I think, has a real role to play in advancing accessible and high quality early childhood care.”