Early Childhood Advocacy and Legislative Update

Social/Emotional Development

The Maine Children’s Alliance recently brought together key stakeholders to discuss social emotional development and mental health consultation in early childhood settings.

We had been hearing reports of increasing numbers of very young children being encouraged to leave or expelled from programs because of challenging behaviors they were exhibiting in the classroom.

As a result of these important conversations, legislation was introduced by Senator Catherine Breen to establish a Study Commission on the Social Emotional Learning and Development of Maine’s Young Children. If enacted, L.D. 1118 would “promote the social emotional learning and development of young children and reduce expulsions in early child care and education settings in the State by making an inventory of policies, rules, funding and services regarding early child care and education in the State and making recommendations, including suggested legislation, to strengthen the support for young children’s social emotional learning and development and to address young children’s behavioral needs.”    We will continue to focus on this issue and urge you to contact us if you would like to participate in future meetings and discussions on this topic in the months ahead.

Child Care Development Block Grant

EDUCARE Central Maine 2011The reauthorization of the Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG) last fall, the first in 18 years, makes changes in health, safety, quality, and supports involving child care for working families. On March 10, MCA convened a meeting of child care advocates to review the new law and discuss how we can work together as the implementation of these provisions begin over the upcoming months and years.  We were joined by Christine Johnson-Staub, a senior policy analyst with the child care and early education team at the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP).  Christine’s expertise is in the areas of systems building, design and implementation of quality rating systems, child care subsidy programs and policy and technical assistance.  We were also be joined by Angie Bellefleur, Associate Director of Policy and Prevention at Maine’s Office of Child & Family Services within Maine’s Department of Health & Human Services.  This meeting was an opportunity to come together and being thinking about the development of a state child care plan.  The Department will be reaching out to stakeholders over the upcoming months as they work to create a new plan to submit to the federal Office of Child Care by March 1, 2016.

State Budget 

On January 9, 2015, Governor Paul LePage sent his state budget to the Maine Legislature.  The budget proposes to eliminate language from last year’s preschool law, LD 1530, that would provide $4 million in funding for preschool expansion.  Public hearings on education elements of the state budget began in March and members of the Education Committee recently delivered their budget priorities to the Appropriations Committee.  The Education Committee split along party lines on whether to allocate the $4 million in preschool funding to school districts beginning this fall as anticipated by the law or to put off the funding until the following year.  The Appropriations Committee will vote on this issue as part of their budget deliberations in the upcoming weeks.

The Governor’s budget proposes flat funding for Head Start, Maine Families/Home Visiting, and child care.  MCA and other early childhood advocates urged the Appropriations Committee to increase the investment in these programs as they can greatly improve outcomes for children and their families.  We have grave concerns about budget proposals that would cut reimbursement rates for children’s mental health services.  The providers of these services are in short supply in many part of the state and families must often travel long distances or wait months to schedule appointments.  Finally, public health has been targeted for sharp cuts including those to relating to school health and smoking cessation programs, public health nursing, and and other programs supported by the Fund for Healthy Maine.

Proposed Legislation Impacting Early Childhood

Legislation to expand funding to critical early childhood programs will be heard in the Legislature’s Health & Human Services, Education, and Taxation Committees over the next few months.  LD 977, An Act to Improve Child Care in the State, is being sponsored by  Rep. Aaron Frey of Bangor.  The bill would increase funding by $2 million in FY 2015-16.  Maine currently invests just $297,048 of general funds toward child care.  This funding would provide an additional federal match of $3 million in support of the state’s child care subsidy program and for licensing, professional development, and other supports relating to the child care system in Maine.

A bill to increase funding to Head Start programs in Maine is being sponsored by Rep. Carol McElwee of Caribou.  The bill, LD 1054, An Act to Provide Funding for Head Start Services, would increase the funding to Head Start by $2 million in order to address the large number of unserved children who cannot access the program.   Providing funding for Head Start is a good investment for Maine’s most vulnerable children.  Unfortunately, only 30% of eligible children are served by the Head Start or Early Head Start program in Maine

Rep. Joyce Maker of Calais is sponsoring LD 552, An Act to Provide Funding for Home Visiting Services.  The bill would increase funding to the state’s home visiting program, Maine Families, by $2.2 million dollars.  Additional state dollars will be crucial to this program as the state just learned that a $9 million federal grant will not be renewed.   This is a devastating loss for this program.  The State of Maine invested at a much higher level for this program in previous years, but made significant cuts as federal expenditures increased.  We will be asking that legislators go beyond the proposal in LD 552 and invest $5 million additional state dollars in Maine Families, which works with new parents to assist them in their parenting skills.  Maine Families/Home Visiting has been shown to prevent child abuse and neglect and increase safety in homes where children are at risk due to substance abuse or family violence.

A bill to improve Maine’s child care tax credit has been introduced by Sen. Justin Alfond, LD 930An Act To Attract Young Families to Maine and Keep Young Families in Maine by Expanding the Child Care Tax Credit.  Child care is one of the largest costs facing young families in Maine and can often exceed the cost of rent, food, transportation and even college tuition.  Yet there is nothing more important than ensuring that young children are being cared for and educated in quality settings.  This bill would increase the amount of Maine’s child care tax credit by making the credit refundable.  It would also continue to provide an incentive to those choosing high quality care by doubling the credit.

A bill sponsored by Sen. David Burns, LD 1077, An Act To Ensure Access to Public Health Nursing Care and Child and Maternal Health Nursing Care in Washington County, raises an issue facing many rural Maine counties with limited access to infant and child health specialists.  The bill seeks to addresses the serious impact that the loss of maternal and child health and public health nursing has had in one of our most rural counties.

MCA was pleased to serve as part of a task force last year to address student hunger in Maine.  LD 933, An Act To Implement the Recommendations of the Task Force To End Student Hunger in Maine, was submitted by Sen. Justin Alfond and establishes an ongoing group, the Commission To End Student Hunger, who would work with four hunger coordinators statewide to implement a five-year plan.  The Commission and coordinators would work to improve access and implementation of child nutrition programs such as school breakfast and lunch in Maine’s school districts and remove barriers related to the community eligibility provision.  The Commission and coordinators would also work to increase the visibility across Maine of the number of children who experience hunger.

Another bill we are supporting is an effort to create additional “community schools” in Maine.  The bill, LD 956An Act To Create Community Schoolsis being sponsored by Sen. Rebecca Millett.  We think the integrated focus on academics, health and social services, and community and parent engagement could be particularly helpful to young children and their families.

Finally, we are following, An Act To Assist Working Families with Young Children. Sponsored by Rep. Drew Gattine, we are still waiting for this bill to be printed and receive a bill number.

CHIP Reauthorization

When children’s health needs are met, they are better able to learn in school and parents miss fewer days of work. By ensuring our kids have the health care they need, we can create a stronger future for Maine. The Children’s Health Insurance Program or “CHIP” is a proven program with a history of bipartisan support that provides kids with the health care they need to stay healthy and succeed.

On March 26, 2015, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed HR 2, the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA). We were especially pleased that the approach to the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) maintains this successful program in its current state, rather than making harmful cuts. In addition to extending CHIP, MACRA extends funding for community health centers and the Maternal Infant Early Childhood Home Visiting program, along with other key programs for low-income families. While no bill is perfect (we would prefer a four year clean extension of CHIP), overall this bill protects and extends programs vital to the health of children and families. Representative Pingree and Representative Poliquin both supported H.R. 2.

The U.S. Senate will be out on recess until April 13 and Senate leadership decided to wait until after recess to vote on H.R. 2. While Senator Collins and King are back in Maine, MCA and our health advocacy partners will reach out to them and urge them urge them to extend CHIP with all its current provisions intact as quickly as possible.

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