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State Senate considers bills to improve the early childhood landscape in the First State

Delaware Senate Democrats
Senator Kyle Evans Gay speaks to stakeholders at a town hall on Tuesday.

The Senate is working to improve the early childhood landscape in the First State- and that’s starting with a package of bills aimed at addressing the cost of child care.

State Senator Kyle Evans Gay (D-Talleyville) calls these Phase 1 bills, as they’re just the first iteration of several initiatives to improve the childcare system in Delaware.

Both of these bills look at state child care subsidies.

The Department of Health and Social Services Purchase of Care program helps families pay for all, or a portion of, childcare services- allowing caretakers to work, obtain training, or meet special needs of the parent or child.

SB 59 works to equalize reimbursement rates for childcare providers who care for children enrolled in the POC assistance program.

“Our childcare subsidy is a complicated program. It’s also a program that I would say doesn’t necessarily fit the needs of today’s economy and educational landscape,” said Gay.

DHSS currently reimburses childcare providers at different rates based on county. That’s left providers in Kent and Sussex counties struggling to serve many families in need. SB 59 calls for the creation of a uniform, statewide rate that aligns with the current New Castle County rate.

SB 58 intends to address the destabilization faced by families as the COVID public health emergency is lifted, and emergency benefits start to disappear.

During the public health emergency, DHSS has not charged copays for Delaware families enrolled in state childcare programs that earn up to 200% of the federal poverty level. SB58 would remove copayments for those families permanently.

“With these bills together we’re one addressing concerns, immediate budgetary concerns, for families who are facing the end of the public health emergency,” explained Gay. “But we are also making sure that we’re investing in every child statewide in the same way.”

Gay says she’d like to see both of these bills pass this fiscal year to start helping families as soon as possible.

Both SB 58 and SB 59 head to the Senate Health & Social Services Committee.

But while awaiting consideration, work to improve childcare in the state continues on the legislative front.

In addition to introducing these bills, Gay is hosting a statewide series of town halls throughout the months of March and early April. She says the idea grew out of meetings she was already having.

“I was traveling to Sussex County, especially Western Sussex County, to talk to providers and families down there to learn more about how I could help. I have community meetings in my district when these issues come up,” she explained. “And so I wanted to have an opportunity to bring more stakeholders to hear what I’ve been hearing when I’ve been talking about childcare in the community.”

She also hopes that by hearing one another, elected officials, families, providers, employers, and advocacy organizations, can work together to develop solutions to some of the most pressing issues in childcare.

Information on upcoming meetings can be found here.

Quinn Kirkpatrick was born and raised in Wilmington, Delaware and a graduated of the University of Delaware. She joined Delaware Public Media in June 2021