Middle-income families who shell out thousands of dollars every year for child care could get a little help from the state under a bill that is expected to show up in the Colorado House Monday.
The measure, which doesn’t yet have an assigned number, will be sponsored by Speaker of the House Crisanta Duran, a Denver Democrat, and Rep. Faith Winter, a Thornton Democrat.
Winter told of her own experience in looking for affordable, quality child care, once taking a week to scout out facilities. She said she and her husband worked two jobs: one to make ends meet and the other to pay for child care so they could work.
The bill would give families with incomes of up to $150,000 a state tax credit for child care, worth up to $400. Combined with an existing federal tax credit, those families could end up with an extra $1,000 in their wallets every year.
*The state already provides a child care tax credit for families with incomes of $60,000 per year or less, although the credit covers only a portion of child care expenses. HB 1208 would increase the amount of child care credit families with incomes of $60,000 or less would be able to claim, and for the first time, families with incomes between $60,000 and $150,000 also would be able to claim that state tax credit.
If passed, the extra tax credits would cost the state about $14 million in lost revenue; Winter estimated about 40,000 families per year could take advantage of the credit.
The bill’s biggest challenge will come from the Senate, where it has gained a Republican sponsor: Sen. Beth Martinez-Humenik of Thornton. Although she is vice-chair of the health and human services committee, which might be considered a more friendly committee, the bill is mostly likely to head to the Senate Business, Labor & Technology Committee because it involves taxes. Should it clear that committee, it would likely next go to Senate Finance, perhaps its biggest challenge.
One advantage the bill has in the Republican-controlled Senate: Martinez-Humenik, whose seat is considered the most endangered in the Republican caucus. She’s up for re-election in the fall, and Republicans are likely to look favorably on bills that they believe will help her, and them, keep that one-seat majority.
This week, Winter and Rep. Matt Gray of Broomfield are also taking on the House Democrats’ top priority bill: House Bill 1001. It’s nearly identical to a measure pushed by House Democrats a year ago, and which died in the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee last May.
Winter explained that nearly one in four mothers go back to work two weeks after giving birth, but child care facilities don’t take babies that young, putting pressure on those families to find alternative arrangements.
HB 1001 would set up a family and medical leave insurance program in the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. That insurance program would provide partial wage replacement for individuals who need to take off work to take care of their own serious health issues, care for a new child, or care for a family member with a serious health condition.
The measure would be paid for through monthly premiums on employee wages of up to .99 percent, eventually bringing in more than $550 million by 2020-21. Its upfront costs in the first year are estimated at around $31 million.
Opponents claim the measure will drive up the cost of doing business in Colorado as well as growing government when it isn’t needed. House Minority Leader Patrick Neville of Castle Rock told Colorado Politics that the measure adds regulations and that will raise costs, such as in compliance. “It’s the opposite of what the sponsors intend to do,” he said. Families are hurting because of rising costs; this will acerbate that, he added.
Not a single Republican in either chamber voted for the 2017 version, and finding any, especially in the Republican-dominated Senate, that will back it in an election year may be its biggest challenge.
One issue with the bill is that every employee will pay into the program, even for companies that already offer a medical leave program.
State Sen. Cheri Jahn of Wheat Ridge, who is unaffiliated but usually caucuses with Democrats, also opposes HB 1001. She told Colorado Politics if a company wants to do it as a benefit to attract people, “more power to them.” In addition, her employees told her they don’t need to have money taken out of their paychecks for a program they may never use. “And who are we to say we’re so smart that we can do it better than people can do it themselves?”
Neha Mahajan of 9 to 5, the national nonprofit that is backing the bill, told Colorado Politics that the program would supplement existing medical leave programs that pay 66 percent of an employee’s salary, boosting the pay from 66 percent to 100 percent. It would also extend leave from 12 weeks in most programs to 16 weeks.
HB 1001 will be heard Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. in the House Business Affairs and Labor Committee.
Correction: to note that families with incomes below $60,000 would be able to claim a larger credit; a previous version said they were ineligible.