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Affordable child care is the key to economic freedom and prosperity for women

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Affordable child care is the key to economic freedom and prosperity for women

Apr 12, 2024 | 5:30 am ET
By Alison Friedman Phillips
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Affordable child care is the key to economic freedom and prosperity for women
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(Rebecca Rivas/Missouri Independent)

It’s often said that everyone depends on someone who depends on child care.

Thousands of women across Colorado count on child care so they can go to work to improve the lives and futures of their families. It allows them to contribute to their communities, provide their children with the social, emotional, and physical benefits of quality child care, and ensure Colorado businesses have the talented employees they depend on to prosper.

Women cannot sustain meaningful participation in the workforce and provide for their children without a flourishing child care infrastructure that families at all income levels can afford. Colorado is falling short of giving moms the child care assistance they need and ensuring all kids have access to quality child care programs and the associated benefits.

The good news is that the state Legislature has an opportunity before them to make needed investments and improvements in addressing this issue.

The Colorado Child Care Assistance Program helps families with low incomes access safe and quality care by providing affordable child care to parents who are working, attending a job training program, pursuing higher education opportunities, and/or entering the workforce for the first time. House Bill 24-1223 is a bill moving through the legislative process that would make many needed improvements to this existing program, implement new federal requirements, and streamline the eligibility process for parents. This bill comes at a time when women have surpassed pre-pandemic participation in the workforce and need support to ensure this historic momentum continues.

Even with these significant gains, Colorado is still one of the top states with the highest number of job vacancies per capita, according to the Colorado Chamber of Commerce. This shouldn’t be a surprise when Colorado has the fifth highest child care costs in the nation. We cannot expect to fill these vacancies without addressing the underlying causes that prevent women from entering the workforce. A recent poll found that 1 in 3 Coloradans either left a job, cut their work hours, or did not enter the workforce at all due to the high cost of child care. This was true for 40% of women compared to 25% of men.

HB-1223 would help the CCCAP reach more parents so they can make the right choices for their families while also helping to stabilize Colorado’s network of quality child care providers. First and foremost, it would help parents cut through bureaucratic red tape by simplifying and streamlining a statewide application process. Too many families either get stalled or rejected due to the cumbersome application process. This is one way to help ensure our important government programs are working for taxpayers and not against us.

A recent poll found that 1 in 3 Coloradans either left a job, cut their work hours, or did not enter the workforce at all due to the high cost of child care.

Second, HB-1223 would help working mothers access child care when they need it most. The status quo has led to parents securing work only to have to delay or forgo the opportunity because it took too long for them to receive their CCCAP eligibility. By creating a strong intake and application process, we can give moms access to the program without jeopardizing their career opportunities. It’s a process known as presumptive eligibility, and it’s been a huge success in other states, such as Wyoming and Montana. These states have found that presumptive eligibility has been an accurate and efficient process that gets eligible parents connected to child care quickly. This is a win-win for families, kids, and counties administering the program.

Lastly, the bill would help stabilize Colorado’s shrinking child care infrastructure and incentivize more providers to partner with the CCCAP by formalizing an enrollment-based payment model. This is a desperately needed improvement that will provide parents with more choices so they can send their kids to a child care provider that works best for their family and aligns with their values.

Colorado has always been a national leader in economic development and job growth. We were one of the first states to rebound from the 2008 recession and have recovered mightily from the pandemic. Yet, we are still lagging behind when it comes to meeting the workforce demand of the future. Colorado’s child care unaffordability and workforce woes are not separate issues. Too many families are making kitchen-table decisions to forgo needed health care, not enroll their kids in extracurricular activities, or quit their jobs because their budgets are eaten up by child care costs.

HB-1223 is a worthy investment in families, children, and our economic growth. Most importantly, it’s an investment in the economic freedom and prosperity of women.