State lawmakers advance a bill that would create a rating system for childcare centers in the state and would increase the number of families eligible for child care subsidies.
There is no disagreement on the main thrust of LB 507, which creates a method to assess the quality of child care.
Sen. Kathy Campbell of Lincoln sponsors the measure. Campbell says Nebraska ranks in the top five of states with the highest number of mothers in the workforce. There are 110,000 children under the age of six in child care centers throughout Nebraska.
Yet, the state at present only assesses whether child care providers meet safety regulations and abide by health codes.
Campbell wants a more thorough assessment; a standard of quality.
Under the bill, child care centers receiving at least $250,000 annually will have to submit to a review. Other providers could submit to the review voluntarily.
An amendment to LB 507 does spark controversy.
That amendment, in effect, incorporates a modification of LB 625 into LB 507.
The modified version of LB 625, sponsored by Sen. Danielle Conrad of Lincoln, would raise the threshold for families to qualify for public child care subsidies. Currently, a family making up to 120% of the federal poverty level qualifies. Under the amendment, that threshold would be raised to 125% the first year and 130% the second year.
The state at one time provided child care help to families making as much as 185% of the federal poverty level, but tough times forced budget cuts in 2002 and the threshold hasn’t been raised since.
Sen. Bill Kintner of Papillion objects. He favors tax cuts over program expansion.
“I think the time to stand for the taxpayers; the time to stand for liberty and freedom is right now and say, ‘No, enough’. We’ve got a windfall. Give it back to the taxpayers,” Kintner tells colleagues during floor debate. “We’ve taken too much money. Give them back their money.”
Yet, Sen. Burke Harr of Omaha sees a bill that allows more mothers to go to work.
“This is America at its greatest,” Harr says. “This is us striving that the next generation is going to be better than the last generation. This isn’t a handout.”
It is estimated that the expansion would cost $8.2 million over the two-year budget cycle, adding approximately 7,300 children to subsidized child care.
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [1 min.]