A business does not need to be a Fortune 500 company to be able to offer childcare solutions that will help them recruit and retain employees that have been dropping out of the workforce in record numbers because of the struggle to find affordable care for young children.
That was the message delivered loud and clear by business leaders, childcare providers, children’s advocacy groups and state officials Thursday during NJBIA’s online seminar, “Moving Beyond the Pandemic: Business’ Role in Childcare.”
“Childcare is necessary to maintain and attract a stable workforce, especially now with hiring so difficult for many of your businesses,” said Cynthia Rice, senior policy analyst at Advocates for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ). However, employer-subsidized childcare is not the only solution. Businesses of all sizes can also help by connecting employees to childcare resources or by partnering with local childcare providers to secure tuition discounts, she said.
“Do not throw up your hands and say, I’m not Merck, or I’m not J&J, or I’m not Sanofi,” Rice said, referring to the expansive employee childcare benefits these large businesses provide. “You can do something to support your employees in a different way.”
New Jersey’s childcare resource and referral (CCR&R) agencies, for example, operate in all 21 counties with trained staff to connect parents and the public to childcare centers or home-based childcare providers and help arrange financial assistance for eligible families. CCR&Rs also work with corporations on outreach activities.
“I want to make sure that the business community understands we are available to all families, not just low-income families,” said Beverly Lynn, CEO of Programs for Parents, the largest of New Jersey’s CCR&Rs. Programs for Parents provides professional development services to 1,200 Essex County childcare providers and financial assistance for the care of 18,000 children.
Census data shows New Jersey’s workforce has been shrinking and a 2020 poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University found that 1 in 10 New Jersey families with children under the age of 3 have had to quit their jobs because of childcare issues. Smaller employers who cannot afford to subsidize childcare can still help by connecting their employees to CCR&Rs that can help.
“Looking for childcare has been an extra challenge lately,” Lynn said and that has led to workforce shortages. “We don’t want you calling 15 childcare programs. We’re here to make the calls for you and we call that a comprehensive childcare referral.”
Lynn urged companies to “think outside the box” when it comes to supporting the childcare services that employees need. “I want to encourage you to reach out to your CCR&R, maybe there is a family childcare provider in your community that can serve your staff, or perhaps you can develop a relationship with them to pay a portion of those fees.”
Winifred Smith-Jenkins, senior director of three family-owned and operated childcare centers in northern New Jersey, said companies can also do other things to support and stabilize the childcare businesses operating on razor-thin profit margins. Businesses can contract with a local provider to offer services during company outings or reserve empty slots at a center that the business’ employees can use in an emergency.
Businesses can also partner with childcare centers in their communities to donate gently used equipment or publicize the fundraisers that childcare facilities are running via in-house company communications or on social media, Smith-Jenkins said
Senate Majority Leader M. Teresa Ruiz spoke about her comprehensive nine-bill legislative package, supported by NJBIA, that would help meet the needs of parents, childcare providers, and employers. Highlights of this package of bills proposed for introduction include:
- S-2479: Tax incentives for employers who provide childcare in their facilities, reimburse their employees for childcare expenses, or contract with private providers so that employees can enroll their children in those programs.
- S-2478: Extend for three years the enrollment-based subsidy payment model now set to expire on June 30. This means childcare providers will continue to be paid based on the number of enrolled children who receive state assistance in their program, rather than by tracking attendance.
- S-2477 Require new preschool programs or seat expansions to use private providers for at least 50% of their preschool slots. The bill is needed because when school districts use all their state funding to start UPK programs for 3- and 4-year-olds in public schools, it causes private schools to lose a major portion of their business that is essential for their financial solvency. The closing of private facilities impacts the availability of childcare for children of all ages, not just 3- and 4-year-olds.