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Increasing child care availability key to economic success

As the leading voice advocating on behalf of the Maryland business community, the Maryland Chamber of Commerce works tirelessly to ensure that our state’s businesses have a seat at the table. We partner with other organizations, businesses and policymakers to accomplish our shared mission: promoting strong public policy that ensures future economic growth for Maryland’s economy while finding amicable solutions across party lines.

As a member-driven advocacy organization, our priorities and anticipated critical issues are proposed and voted on each year by our membership. Our issue-specific policy committees and Legislative Committee then review these proposals to ensure they are aligned with the Chamber’s mission and values.

For 2022, all parties agreed that one of our top priorities will be supporting policies aimed at increasing child care availability for Marylanders.

Since the pandemic hit in March 2020, Maryland has lost 751 child care providers. The gutted child care industry has had rippling effects on our workforce and our economy, which has come to a head over the last two years. Without a strong network of care for our families, it is clear this is a contributing factor to our state’s sidelined workforce.

We’ve seen this as companies over a variety of industries struggle to hire and cannot fill vacant positions. Maryland families are fighting to find affordable, quality care and when they can’t, are being forced out of the job market. This workforce shortage results in billions of dollars in lost economic activity by Maryland employers due to child care disruptions. This is money that will not be injected into our economy to spur economic growth as we continue to recover from the turmoil brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

For the health of our economy, it is critical that we support Maryland’s child care industry and view its success as the success of Maryland’s economy, as this industry has a direct impact on Maryland’s labor force participation. Additional regulatory burdens only create obstacles and added costs of doing business to our already beleaguered child care centers, exacerbating the issue and causing the remaining facilities to make difficult choices about their future. The American Rescue Plan Act provided critical funding to keep child care facilities operational, and we need to ensure that the remainder of these funds are distributed expeditiously. However, more support is needed to bolster this industry and take the strain off Maryland employees and businesses.

During the 2022 legislative session, we hope Democrats and Republicans will come together on this all-important issue that needs their attention. We anticipate working in a bipartisan fashion to support legislation incentivizing the opening of new child care facilities and the expansion of existing ones. New and expanded child care facilities will increase the overall number of child care slots available, allowing more Marylanders to get back to work while helping to stem the tide of rising costs by easing demand.

Additionally, we are urging the state to use existing business grant and loan programs to support the child care industry. It is imperative to find ways to support business owners with technical expertise ensuring the development of successful business plans. A comprehensive industry regulatory review should take place to find ways of fast-tracking permitting and the opening of facilities without compromising the health, safety and well-being of Maryland’s children. Furthermore, the state should reevaluate impending regulations requiring child care workers to have even higher degrees of qualifications, further tightening the labor market of those eligible to work in child care facilities. The Maryland Chamber of Commerce encourages the support of other creative measures geared toward addressing this statewide issue.

As we approach the two-year anniversary of the start of the pandemic in the United States, we know all too well that the economic impact and challenges of COVID-19 are unprecedented. In the near, mid and long term, Maryland leaders must focus on overcoming volatility and putting policies into place that allow our state to both recover and then grow as we continue to mitigate this crisis. Positive actions that support our business community by leadership this legislative session is critical to set us on a path to make Maryland more nationally and internationally competitive.

The strength of Maryland’s economy is based on its diversity and includes many sectors such as agriculture, manufacturing, hospitality and biotech, among others. Each of these industries and the businesses within them face unique challenges that will require unique solutions and flexibility based on their needs. We urge Maryland legislators to consider these needs when promulgating regulations. A one-size-fits-all approach to this crisis could be a disservice to the future of our economy.

Myself and my staff at the Maryland Chamber of Commerce remain committed to doing our part to assist in mitigating the COVID-19 crisis. We urge state leaders to utilize the expertise of leaders within our robust business community when considering regulations, guidelines and resources. Together, we can create solutions for our big issues, like child care, to ensure an even stronger future for Maryland families.

Mary D. Kane is the President & CEO of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce.

Eye on Annapolis Summit This article is featured in The Daily Record's Eye on Annapolis Summit magazine that was inserted with the Wednesday, January 12, 2022 issue of The Daily Record.

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