A battle over a bill that freezes childcare subsidies received by the working poor foreshadows bigger budget battles looming for the Unicameral. A freeze on childcare subsidy rates has advanced, but only after criticism from senators who say savings could be found elsewhere and only after prolonged debate on the measure which stretched over two days.
LB 335, carried on the floor by Sen. Merv Riepe of Ralston, chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, at the request of Gov. Pete Ricketts, is a rather simple bill. It would keep the rates paid to parents and participants the same for the coming fiscal year, saving an estimated $7.4 million.
It sparked rather intense debate.
Critics charged the governor and supporters of seeking to balance the state budget on the backs of those who could least afford it. Some charged the bill would harm children by forcing them into inferior child care. They called on the Unicameral to find savings in other programs.
Sen. Sara Howard of Omaha warned colleagues during legislative floor debate that if rates drop too low, $30 million in federal funds could be jeopardized.
“We never want to lose child care providers, because we’re not paying them enough,” Howard said. “And we certainly don’t want to lose child care providers, because we made a decision now to fill a budget hole that hits us considerably more later.”
Approximately 18,000 Nebraska families receive subsidies to offset the cost of child care. The amount received depends on their income and the market rate for child care. Approximately 3,000 child care providers receive subsidies from the state.
This was one of a series of tough decisions the legislature faces as it prepares to craft a state budget for the next two years projected at the beginning of the session to fall nearly a billion dollars short of the revenue needed to fund current state programs and services.
Supporters of LB 335 argued that if the legislators don’t accept the freeze, they will have to make cuts in other parts of the budget.
Also, Sen. Riepe claimed opponents have strayed from the facts.
“And the facts are LB 335 is not, I repeat, not a cut to vulnerable children,” Riepe said. “This is a cost avoidance. LB 335 does not eliminate subsidies.”
LB 335 must pass two more rounds of voting before moving to the governor’s desk.
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [1 minute]