Bill to give child care industry $100M approved unanimously by Legislature, headed to governor

A bill that would appropriate $100 million to support the child care industry was passed unanimously by the Legislature on Thursday and will be sent to Gov. Phil Murphy.

The bill (A5863/S3990), which passed 74-0 in the Assembly and 40-0 in the Senate, will provide funds to assist child care centers with salaries, equipment, capital improvements and technical assistance.

The money would be sent to the Division of Disaster Recovery and Mitigation in the Department of Community Affairs. The division would oversee the distribution of funds to three state agencies: the Economic Development Authority, the Department of Children and Families, and the Department of Human Services.

Each agency would use the funds to help revitalize the industry in different ways, such as studying the current child care landscape, providing technical assistance to child care providers and/or awarding grants to child care providers.

Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Woodbridge), one of the sponsors of the bill, said the state cannot ignore the restoration of child care services as it attempts to come out of the slowdown. The group released a statement.

“Many of the child care programs that made it through the pandemic are now struggling to stay afloat,” they said in a joint statement. “Without our support, they may be unable to expand services or continue to stay in business.

“Many parents — especially mothers — have been unable to reenter the workforce because they lack access to affordable child care. New Jersey families will face financial difficulties and our economic recovery will falter if we cannot provide a sufficient network of high-quality, affordable licensed child care providers throughout our state.”

The group hopes New Jersey will set an example for others.

“New Jersey will be a model for the rest of the country in offering financial support to struggling providers,” they said. “This will not only show our appreciation for the invaluable services they supplied during an unprecedented crisis, but will ensure our child care providers can continue to offer these services going forward.”

The child care industry was among the hardest hit during the COVID-19 pandemic, with many programs forced to temporarily close and then reopen with decreased enrollment and higher operating costs.