Crisis warning, child care advocates call for federal funds

A slew of speakers urged officials on Monday to direct federal dollars toward increasing child care staffing during a listening session on how the state should spend unallocated US bailout funds from New Jersey.

Child care advocates and business groups have said the state’s child care system is faltering in the face of soaring inflation and a broader hiring crisis that has drives up wages in other sectors, attracting workers from the low-wage field that underpins much of the state’s economy.

“My colleagues and I across the state recognize that our child care system is collapsing around us, and we don’t see how we can save it without immediate relief through compensation strategies,” said Meghan Tavormina, president of the New Jersey Association for the Education of Young Children.

Shortages have become severe enough that child care centers have, on average, 10 spaces below capacity, with particularly severe gaps for age groups like infants and toddlers who require extra care, said Cynthia Rice, Senior Policy Analyst at Advocates for Children of New Jersey.

Shortages are widespread in 20 of the state’s 21 counties, and about three-quarters of centers said understaffing was the reason, Rice said, citing a survey of licensed daycares her group will release this week. .

New Jersey has already set aside federal funds to help child care centers. The state has twice provided $1,000 bonuses to child care workers in hopes the extra pay will discourage moves to warehouse or hospitality jobs, which have raised wages for fill their own hiring shortages. But defenders say that was not enough.

“We have to understand the numbers. For example, if an early childhood teacher makes $26,000 a year, living in New Jersey’s high cost of living, a check for $1,000 is helpful for now, but that doesn’t change the fact that he now earns $27,000 a year,” Tavormina said.

Advocates have suggested the state match every dollar above the minimum wage paid to child care workers, adding that child care subsidies for industrial workers could keep more teachers on the job. field.

But they warned that the other measures would be of little importance if federal funds did not also raise wages.

New Jersey has about $1.4 billion in unallocated US bailout money. Funds paid to states under the law must be allocated by the end of 2024, and they must be spent by December 31, 2026.

Lead, water and water bills

Many speakers urged the state to spend more money on its efforts to replace aging lead water pipes and eliminate lead paint.

Using federal funds, lawmakers earmarked $300 billion for water infrastructure and $175 billion for lead paint cleanup when they approved the annual spending bill in late June, but some have stated that the investments were insufficient or risked being transferred to other programmes.

“None of that money was specifically allocated to lead service lines,” said Rashan Prailow, co-president of Lead-Free New Jersey.

Prailow asked the state to set aside an additional $430 million for lead abatement, $130 million for lead paint removal, and $300 million to replace lead water pipes. During budget negotiations earlier this year, the defenders requested two separate $300 million allocations for the replacement of lead paint and water pipes.

Others said the state should invest more federal money in helping utilities, noting that some taxpayers are still struggling to pay bills racked up during the pandemic.

New Jersey’s moratorium on utility shutdowns expired in early 2022, and while Governor Phil Murphy in March signed a bill banning shutdowns for 60 days after customers sought state help, about 800,000 taxpayers were still behind in June.

“Our members have been and will continue to provide assistance and promote programs that help those in need,” said Christina Farrell, senior director of government and public affairs for the New Jersey Utilities Association. “At the same time, there’s not much public services can do.”

Chris DeMarco, business development coordinator for the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials, called on the state to invest $1 billion in utility assistance and lead pipe replacement, noting that the latter could reduce costs for taxpayers.

The consequences of inaction could be disastrous, DeMarco said.

“Water debt, which particularly affects the underserved, can lead to water closures, tax liens and even collection efforts that can lead to foreclosure,” he said. “Increased funding could prevent that.”

Unemployment and legal aid

Business groups reiterated their demand that the state use federal funds to avoid unemployment insurance tax hikes triggered by the pandemic depleting the state fund that pays unemployment claims. unemployment.

Employers saw their second scheduled increase in unemployment insurance tax rates last month and could face another if the state does not repay the federal unemployment loans it took to keep the solvency of the fund by September.

Immigration activists have called on the state to set aside $4.5 million for legal aid and other services for undocumented immigrants and undocumented children, in particular.

“For immigrant youth, obtaining permanent status can be transformative, a path to a fearless life and access to the resources they need to thrive,” said Sarah Nolan, legal director of the New Jersey Consortium. for Immigrant Children. “We know that children have a much better chance of winning their cases when they are represented by a lawyer.”

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