The NDP’s first budget pledges $1 billion over the next three years to create an affordable child care system in B.C., although one without its major campaign promise of a $10-a-day rate.
Instead, it has promised a combination of two measures that will drastically reduce child care costs for families with kids in licensed facilities, and which will together help low-income earners the most.
“Approximately 27,000 families with annual incomes under $45,000 will pay little or nothing for licensed child care,” the budget says.
Finance Minister Carole James would not confirm Tuesday whether the NDP has abandoned its $10 campaign promise, despite its absence in the government’s first major budget.
“We are continuing to work on the (child care) program and it will roll out over the next 10 years,” she said. “As we go along, there will be people paying less than $10 a day.”
Although child care is a top-priority in this budget, the document does little to help families with children in unlicensed facilities. James said she hopes unlicensed providers will now move to get their licences so their clients can access this new government support.
The budget promised $630 million over three years for two key new initiatives:
- Replace an income-geared subsidy program that had not been updated for a decade with a new benefit that improves eligibility and rates, to be paid directly to the child care provider. The benefit will be on a sliding scale, based on the family’s income and whether the child is an infant, a preschooler or in after-school care. Families making up to $111,000 are eligible, but it will help low-earners the most: those making less than $45,000 with an infant in a licensed group facility, for example, will save up to $1,250 per month, while families with incomes between $60,000 and $80,000 with a child in preschool could save $240 per month. It will be phased in over three years and families can start applying in September 2018. By 2021, it is expected to help up to 86,000 families — more than three times the number receiving the old subsidy.
- A new fee-reduction program for children under age six will save families, regardless of income, $350 per month for an infant in care as long as the facility is licensed and the operator has opted-in to the government program; a family with an infant in a licensed home facility will have fees reduced by $200 per month. The reductions are much lower for three to five year olds. This is estimated to benefit up to 50,000 families by 2021, depending on how many licensed facilities opt into the plan, and will be available to providers starting in April.
Two other child care initiatives in the budget include $237 million over three years to create more than 22,000 new child care spaces; to give incentives for providers to offer more flexible hours; and to maintain and increase capacity at existing facilities.
The second was $136 million, to be spent between now and 2021, to expand education and training to create more than 2,300 new early childhood educators in B.C. The government estimates it will need 12,000 more ECEs within the next decade, more than double the number in the province now.
Don’t expect to see change immediately. This year’s investment by the province is relatively small at $182 million, and won’t jump to $464 million until 2020/21.
“It’s going to take time to deliver,” James said.
The NDP’s election pledge of $10-a-day care came with a $855 million price tag over the first three years.
The provincial child care commitment in this budget shows the NDP pledging just $560 million over that same time frame.
By 2019/20, though, the NDP (with help from the federal government) will have caught up with its platform promise to spend $400 million on child care in that fiscal year, and by 2020/21 will actually surpass what the $10-a-day coalition folks would like the government to spend on child care ($450 million) with a $515 million pledge.
“Budget 2018 puts people first. It makes an historical investment to take care of our children,” James said.
The budget states it will take 10 years for government to complete a new system that is affordable, easy to access no matter where families live, and provides high-quality care.
In the pursuit of more child care spaces, the government plans to work with municipalities and non-profit operators, and will look at locating facilities in publicly owned properties such as schools.
James said expanding daycare will also benefit businesses in B.C., because it will allow more parents to enter the workforce.