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Chamber Hosts Expert Update On Childcare Legislation

On average, full-time formal childcare in Virginia costs between $100 and $440 per child per week, making child care unaffordable for most Virginia households.

This lack of access and affordability for childcare has been at the forefront of many people’s minds, including the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Chamber of Commerce.

With elections creating a big shakeup in the Virginia legislature and a legislative session just around the corner, the chamber invited government relations experts Joel Andrus and Emily O'Brion from Kemper Consulting to break down public policy on childcare during an event at Sentara RMH Tuesday.

The most recent election created large changes in the legislature, with districts across the state shifting and Democrats flipping the legislature.

Redistricting had many experienced legislators with longstanding personal relationships retiring, Andrus said, creating a level of unpredictability as new legislators start building new relationships.

The change in party control, despite Democrats now controlling both legislative bodies, still creates a divided government with Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin. The narrow majority will create a need for cooperation, Andrus said.

Virginia is also heading into a new biannual budget year, with Youngkin wanting to make his mark with a budget he proposes by next week.

“This is a really important budget for the administration because a lot of their priorities are going to be built into this budget,” Andrus said.

Everything from tax cuts and education to prescription drug affordability and mental health has been discussed or introduced by some level of the state government. A big focus for education will be overhauling the funding formula after a JLARC study found that Virginia underfunds its K-12 schools.

For early childhood services, O'Brion said, an influx of temporary federal funding has made a significant impact on childcare affordability. For fiscal year 2024, Virginia invested over $300 million, with a majority of the money going toward the childcare subsidy program and the mixed delivery program.

The funding increased reimbursement rates for subsidy vendors, expanded eligibility criteria for families and reduced copayments.

These three things, O'Brion said, helped childcare providers stay open and pay their employees more, allowed more families to take advantage of the childcare subsidy and made childcare more affordable.

A study from JLARC found that childcare in Virginia is too expensive for most families and often serves as a major barrier to employment. Even without addressing the question of affordability, Virginia doesn’t have enough childcare slots.

With the increase in federal funding serving as only a temporary resource, families who use programs like the childcare subsidy will lose access. O'Brion said the Virginia Commission on Early Childhood Care and Education came out with eight strategies to address childcare needs, including leveraging public-private funding and recognizing the important role of childcare in economic development.

There’s some work happening to address the issues in childcare, O'Brion said, including Youngkin announcing his budget would include a large amount of funding for early childhood care and education and other bills being introduced.

Groups like the Virginia Business Roundtable for Early Education, which O'Brion said brings together businesses to address the issue of childcare, are also looking for solutions.

The best thing the business community can do, Andrus and O'Brion said, is to continue the conversation.

“The most important thing is having conversations constantly about how important this issue is,” O'Brion said. “That means everything from … talking to legislators and their staff about this issue. But it also just means the next time you're in the grocery store, and you see someone just having this be a point of emphasis. So that it becomes an issue that everyone agrees we have to focus on.”

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