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Wisconsin Officials Vote to Cut Pandemic-Era Child Care Subsidy Program Despite Opposition

2023

In the early hours of Friday, Wisconsin Republicans who control the state's Legislature made a controversial decision to end funding for a pandemic-era child care subsidy program. Despite strong objections from Democrats and child care providers, the GOP-controlled Joint Finance Committee voted to terminate funding after a meeting delay of over 10 hours.

The Child Care Counts program, administered by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, distributed nearly $600 million to over 4,900 child care providers between March 2020 and March 2023. This financial support helped struggling providers cover expenses such as rent, utilities, and professional development during a time when many parents were working from home. However, the allocated funds are projected to be depleted by February of next year.

Democratic Governor Tony Evers proposed making the program permanent, utilizing over $300 million in state funds over the next two years. Unfortunately, Republicans rejected this proposal, prompting concerns from Democrats like Senator Kelda Roys. Roys emphasized that the Child Care Counts program played a crucial role in preventing child care centers from closing during the pandemic. She warned that discontinuing the grants would have a devastating impact on both children and the state's economy.

Brooke Skidmore, the owner of The Growing Tree child care center in New Glarus, echoed these sentiments, stating that the loss of Child Care Counts funding would lead to closures and prevent families from being able to work. Skidmore highlighted that the funding had allowed her to increase her employees' wages and address staffing challenges.

Tim Ballard, a parent whose child has been enrolled at The Growing Tree since infancy, emphasized the essential role child care providers play in enabling parents to pursue their careers. He expressed his dismay, questioning how lawmakers could justify denying these vital resources to children in need.

During the budget committee's debate on the plan, Republican members did not address the removal of Child Care Counts funding. However, Representative Jessie Rodriguez, a Republican from Oak Creek, mentioned that Republicans are working on additional legislation to support the opening of more child care centers.

Governor Evers' office issued a statement before the vote, urging Republicans to preserve the program. Evers' spokesperson, Britt Cudaback, criticized the decision and the timing of the vote, accusing Wisconsin Republicans of waiting until working families were asleep before gutting hundreds of millions of dollars allocated to make child care more affordable and accessible statewide.

The termination of the Child Care Counts program raises concerns about the well-being of needy families, the stability of child care providers, and the overall impact on Wisconsin's economy. The decision has ignited a contentious debate between Republicans and Democrats, highlighting the importance of accessible and affordable child care for working parents.

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