As we turn the page to post-election season and focus on the end of the year, Congress has a short time frame to make major decisions on unfinished business. A key piece must be extending support for our fragile child care industry by investing additional resources in the federal Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG).

As employers, we know that high-quality child care is essential for parents to work now, and to prepare kids for tomorrow’s workforce. Simply put, businesses need child care to keep jobs and consumers in Maine.

The lack of quality child care is a huge concern, and for too many, a barrier to work. According to a ReadyNation report issued earlier this year, child care challenges exact an annual cost of $57 billion in lost earnings, productivity, and revenue. The estimate for Maine is $180 million per year in losses due to the child care crisis for infants and toddlers alone. These loss estimates were generated before the pandemic. Since then, it has likely gotten worse.

At the same time, child care is more scarce. In 2021, ReadyNation reported that Maine had lost 27.5% of our family care providers in the years leading up to the pandemic, contributing to our lack of child care in rural Maine.

Since the pandemic, many child care programs closed permanently. Some new ones have opened, and across the state we have about 90% of the volume of child care programs we had before the pandemic. But the vast majority of programs are not operating anywhere close to full capacity. Many are operating at 50-70% capacity. This is due mostly to the lack of staff.

As business leaders, we know we have to invest in our workers to get a quality product. To fix the child care crisis, we must also invest in the critical child care workforce.


Lack of child care staff occurs because in Maine, child care workers are paid just $26,810, barely above the federal poverty line.

But we cannot fix these problems by asking working parents to pay more. In Maine, less than 1 in 7 eligible children gets a federal child care subsidy. Child care costs Maine families $10,866 per child per year. This is many families’ largest cost. In fact, child care prices are rising much faster than groceries and gas.

These are the root causes of Maine’s child care crisis: lack of access and low pay for the workforce.

At the same time, research shows that quality early learning has a high return-on-investment: It reduces child abuse and gets kids ready for school, cutting costs on special education, dropouts, welfare and crime. Quality child care programs help build the foundation of many skills needed for 21st-century jobs, including both cognitive and character skills, and they contribute to educational success.

Congress must invest greater resources now and create the conditions for states to be able to enact the policies and practices that allow our children to thrive.

The one-time money or emergency money provided by the federal government to support child care during the worst of the pandemic was important to stabilize the child care sector. But the emergency funding cannot substitute for strong standards for competitive wages for qualified child care workers, and providing professional development, training and career pathways for child care workers in all Maine communities.


By sustaining and consistently increasing the yearly allocation, Congress can enable Maine and other states to prioritize reimbursement rates to child care providers that allow providers to recruit and retain qualified workers, and help create a system of quality providers that increases access to affordable quality child care when working parents need it.

That’s why consistently increasing federal investments in child care is essential.

This spring, Sen. Susan Collins urged her colleagues to double child care funding over five years. Now as a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, Sen. Collins will be hard at work crafting the year-end federal budget package. We ask her to follow through on her commitment with a substantial down payment: an increased investment in the Child Care Development Block Grant in the year-end budget deal and in the years to come.

Jim Clair is CEO of Clair Group of Companies and Dana Connors is president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce. Both are members of ReadyNation, a group of business leaders in Maine and nationwide advocating for investments in children and youth to strengthen our current and future workforce and increase economic competitiveness.

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