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Tennessee Democrat plans series of child care bills

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(The Center Square) – A Tennessee Democratic senator expects to introduce a series of bills next week to focus on what she calls a child care crisis in the state.

Sen. Charlene Oliver, D-Nashville, has six pieces of legislation prepared for everything from child meal programs to child care workers, co-pays, and increases in those available for child care assistance.

“Child care and care-giving workers are essential to our economy as they enable parents to participate in the workforce and reach their career potential,” said Oliver, vice chairwoman of the Senate Democratic Caucus. “Right now, too many parents from working- and middle-class families are leaving good jobs because they either don’t have access to high-quality child care or they can’t afford it. If we want to protect our long-term economic success, we need to make sure working families have the tools they need to succeed – and affordable child care is near the top of that list.”

Oliver based her plan on a 2022 study that found inadequate child care in Tennessee resulted in $1.7 billion in lost earnings for parents and $910 million in lost revenue for business owners and taxpayers.

It said cost was the driving factor for families in determining child care and the average annual price for center-based care in the state was $11,068 and $10,184 for infants and toddlers, respectively.

Oliver wants eligibility for child care assistance to rise from those earning 85% of the state median income or less to those earning the state median, which would be around $60,000 for a single parent.

Another bill would eliminate the state’s Smart Steps Program co-pay for families earning less than 150% of the federal poverty line, while another would develop a “true cost” of child care for the state.

Oliver wants to create a two-year pilot program that would allow child care workers who receive public assistance to continue to receive the aid if they get a raise, and she wants the state to study compensation rates for child care employees.

She wants to create a fund that would make a state matching fund to go to cities that create child care programs and develop a plan for full meals to students enrolled in after-school child care in USDA-designated food deserts.

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