(The Center Square) — A revolving loan fund to benefit Maryland child care providers could be created in the state budget if the legislation moves forward.
As written, Senate Bill 0919 would establish the interest-free loan fund with an initial state investment of $30 million, paid into the account over the next three years.
State Sen. Mary Washington, D-Baltimore, introduced the bill to members serving on the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. The panel held a hearing on the bill on March 15.
While many child care providers across Maryland have received various state and federal loans and grants related to the pandemic, Washington said the industry is still struggling and needs a buoy. safety.
“We are looking at different ways to help surviving child care providers, while also working to encourage new providers to enter the industry,” Washington said.
The bill’s goal, Washington said, is to bring stability to the child care industry.
“We need to invest in child care businesses to ensure Maryland families have access to safe, quality care,” she said. “This legislation will allow suppliers to grow.”
During the hearing on the bill, Christina Peusch, executive director of the Maryland State Childcare Association, provided the Senate panel with the impact of the pandemic on the industry over the past two years.
Since March 2020, Peusch said Maryland has dropped 855 licensed child care centers, which represents a 10% drop. At the time of the onset of COVID-19, Peusch said Maryland had 7,933 child care businesses; two years later, she said the figure had fallen to 7,078 operations.
In her testimony before state senators, Ms. Peusch said struggles within the industry are impacting Maryland’s economy.
“Prioritizing child care for interest-free loans for recovery efforts aligns with the understanding that child care is essential and an economic driver,” Peusch said.
While state and federal loans and grants have brought some stability to the industry, Peusch and other speakers said child care businesses continue to struggle to emerge from the pandemic for a variety of reasons.
The industry, in general, is run on thin margins, Peusch said, and companies face reliance on tuition fees and high government regulations.
“Facilities are a huge hurdle to the operation of child care centers,” said Laura Weeldreyer, executive director of the Maryland Family Network. “Licensure has, as you would expect, strict requirements for the health and safety of our young children.”
From her perspective, Weeldreyer said she sees SB 0919 as a way to help ensure Maryland’s most vulnerable families in low-income areas receive services.
“Accessible, high-quality child care is a public good,” Weeldreyer said.
Carolina Reyes, owner and director of Laurel-based Arco Iris Bilingual Children’s Center, said each child care business in the state faces its own unique circumstances, depending on location and business model.
“We would like to stay viable,” Reyes said in testimony to lawmakers. “We would like to offer a unique character to what we can offer in our centers.”