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Lawmakers tie child tax credit expansion to allowing more kids in unlicensed home day cares

By Katie McKellar - Utah News Dispatch | Mar 1, 2024

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Utah lawmakers have approved a bill that provides a $2.3 million break for some Utah parents, while also upping the number of kids allowed in unlicensed in-home day cares.

The Utah Legislature signed off on a bill that provides a $2.3 million tax break for some Utah parents — while upping the number of kids allowed in unlicensed in-home day cares.

The Utah House on Wednesday gave final legislative approval to HB153 with a 50-21 vote, with Democrats and some Republicans voting against. It now goes to Gov. Spencer Cox.

The bill includes the second piece of Utah’s tax cut plan this year (lawmakers have also approved a $167 million income tax cut). It would expand the state’s existing nonrefundable child tax credit, making it available to Utah parents with kids who are at least 1 and up to 4 years old, raising the limit from age 3.

The tax credit would result in a tax reduction for an estimated 5,600 Utah parents, which could save an average of $410 a year, according to the bill’s fiscal note.

HB153 would also raise the number of children unlicensed child care providers could care for in homes, up from six to eight. It also requires unlicensed residential child care providers to undergo a background check, as well as restricts them from caring for any more than two children that are under 3 years old at any given time.

The aim of the bill is to provide more flexibility for at-home day cares and parents who may, for example, turn to their neighbors for more affordable child care, said the bill’s sponsor Rep. Susan Pulsipher, R-South Jordan.

“This gives parents options,” she said on the House floor. “This is for parents to help them have options in what is best for their family.

However, while they were supportive of expanding the state’s child tax credit, Democrats complained about lawmakers marrying the two issues rather than running separate pieces of legislation.

“The child tax credit is something our caucus has supported for a very long time,” House Minority Whip Jen Dailey-Provost, D-Salt Lake City, told reporters in a media availability Wednesday. However, she said Democrats grappled with voting in favor of it because she said it was paired with a “poison pill. They opposed allowing more children to be cared for in unlicensed residential day cares.

While HB153 does require unlicensed child care providers to undergo background checks, there’s nothing in the bill to ensure that happens, Dailey-Provost said, as well as no requirements that those providers have CPR training or other life-saving skills.

Pulsipher argued if parents want to take their child to an unlicensed provider, that should be their prerogative. In response to questions about how the bill would be enforced, she said parents can ask for a proof of background check, and if they run into issues they could complain to the state’s Office of Child Care.

“It’s their choice and it’s their decision,” she said.

Democrats in the Senate also opposed the bill. Senate Minority Assistant Whip Jen Plumb, D-Salt Lake City, who is also a pediatric emergency medicine physician, said she’s “admittedly biased” because she’s seen what has happened in some in-home day care settings, “from drownings, to abuse cases, to burns, to broken bones to sexual abuse cases.”

“I’m really uncomfortable with this concept of (raising the limit) to eight children in one home of nonrelatives,” Plumb said. Though she said she appreciates wanting “less regulation, I’m just not certain of having it at the potential of jeopardy to children and infants.”

The bill’s Senate sponsor, Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, said he wants to give parents more flexibility.

“At the end of the day, I trust mom and dad to make those decisions,” he said. “I’m not going to let the government undermine the ability of (parents) to make decisions for their children.”

‘Out of the box solution’ runs into trouble in the House

Meanwhile, another bill aimed at trying to expand child care availability failed in the House Wednesday night.

Senate Minority Leader Luz Escamilla’s SB176 would have started a pilot project to retrofit empty state-owned buildings for child care facilities. It would create a framework for a public-private partnerships, in which employers could sponsor facilities for their employees, but only up to 60% of the child care spots. At least 40% would need to be reserved for children of low-income workers, state employees and military personnel.

The bill sought about $2 million in one-time funds to retrofit an obsolete state-owned building and $179,800 in ongoing funds for the program.

Child care accessibility and affordability are “critical issues facing families across our state,” the bill’s House sponsor, Rep. Robert Spendlove, R-Sandy, told lawmakers on the House floor.

He cited a recent analysis by the advocacy nonprofit Voices for Utah Children, which stated about 77% of Utahns live in a child care desert and lack access to affordable child care.

Several Republicans on the House floor argued against the bill. Rep. Mark Strong, R-Bluffdale, worried it would create state-sponsored competition with other child care facilities.

“It’s going to compete with for-profit places,” Strong said. “It’s a laudable cause, but I think it’s poor fiscal policy.”

Escamilla’s bill failed on a 27-43 vote in the House. However, Escamilla told reporters Thursday she’s not giving up. She said she may try to revive it in the House before the session ends at or before midnight on Friday.

“As a Democrat, the last thing you can lose is hope in this place,” she said, laughing, but added on a more serious note, “It’s such a critical piece of legislation.”

Utah is expected to lose an estimated $400 million in federal funds for child care services after COVID-19 federal subsidies end. Given lawmakers also haven’t decided to fill that gap with additional funding, she had hoped her bill would help expand child care access, even by just a little, as an “out of the box solution.”

“We don’t have a lot of investment in child care, and that’s probably one of the biggest crises in the state of Utah,” Escamilla said. “I’ll continue to work. I’m not losing hope until the end.”

Utah News Dispatch is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news source covering government, policy and the issues most impacting the lives of Utahns.


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