When I am knocking doors, the most common issues I hear about are those that affect young families. Despite being a state completely controlled by the Democratic Party, Delaware falls behind dozens of other states, both republican and democrat, on programs that help working parents.
It is becoming harder to start a family America. More and more people have entered the workforce over the last fifty years, but wages have stagnated as prices have gone up. From diapers to child care, from health care to pre-K, basic needs are pricing out young parents. It’s no wonder our country is seeing birth rates reach a 32 year low.
These issues hit our district especially hard. Representative District 26 is one of the youngest districts in the state of Delaware with a median age of 33 and the largest age group is people in their late 20s, the most common age range for people starting a family. And these families are struggling. More than 1 in 10 families with children in RD26 are in poverty, and many more are just a few unexpected bills away.
This is the area I grew up in. I love this district, and I want to raise my kids here. But like other young adults in this state, I realize that Delaware is currently not the best place to start a family. That is why I am proposing this set of reforms. We have the opportunity to make Delaware not just a better place for young families, but a model for other states and countries to follow.
We Need Paid Family and Medical Leave
One of the most crucial periods for parents raising a child is the few months after birth. Important cognitive development means that children should be well taken care of in that time, and preferably by one of their parents. And yet, in America, there is no national standard for paid family leave. In 2019, Delaware actually took a huge step forward in passing a paid parental leave plan for all state workers, and some larger employers have followed suit. This is a great achievement for those who work for these employers, but it does not include the hundreds of thousands of Delawareans that do not. We need to take the next step and ensure these rights for all workers.
Ensure 16 weeks of paid family leave for all workers
Parents should be able to spend the first few months of their childrens’ lives raising them without worrying about going broke. Ensuring 16 weeks of paid leave for each parent, with up to 10 transferable between parents, would be the most generous paid plan in the country, going slightly above the 12 weeks currently guaranteed for state workers. This would be funded, as in other states, by a small employer tax of less than 1% of the wage of each employee, so an individual employer would not have to bear the whole burden for one of their employees leaving. Additionally, programs would be offered to allow employers to train up temporary replacements.
Strengthen Medical and Family Leave
Having a child is not the only thing that can take someone away from work that is outside of their control. Delaware should ensure paid medical and family leave for up to 12 weeks, making sure that a medical emergency or a family crisis does not result in losing your livelihood.
Protect against discrimination that might arise
The new benefits that are provided should not be able to be used against the employees using them, and protections would be put in place to ensure this. First, a state version of the FMLA should be passed to match the benefits listed above to keep people who used them from being fired after 12 weeks. These benefits should also be given to independent contractors, to keep employers from re-classifying their employees to strip them of their leave. Lastly, more resources should be given to the attorney general’s office to prosecute employers who discriminate based on age, sex, marital status, pregnancy, or children.
We Need Universal Child-Care
While paid parental leave is absolutely necessary element of a humane system for parents, it can not stop there. Eventually, parents who want to return to work will need some place to send their kids during the day. Under our current system, that creates a huge problem. The average family spends 10% of their income on private child care. This strains families by reducing the choices that parents have to improve their lives. It’s not just the families struggling either. Right now, more than 50% of child care workers in Delaware qualify for public assistance due to unlivable wages. We need a better system.
Expand and reform the Purchase of Care program
The current method for subsidizing child care in Delaware is the Purchase of Care program, which provides a voucher for those making up to 185% of the federal poverty line. This is useful for some, but the requirement leaves out many families who need assistance. The current system means that an extra few dollars in income can lead to losing thousands of dollars in assistance, and the process of applying for benefits can be exhausting. The POC program should be raised to at least 250% of the FPL to cover more families while moving to a sliding scale of assistance, so that no one is financially worse off after getting a raise. To help parents who might need the benefits, the process should be streamlined to make it less difficult to apply regardless of your income. Additionally, payment should be reformed to make the program easier for childcare providers. That means ensuring consistent payment and raising the payment to match the increased costs of running a childcare facility. Lastly, the standards for eligible child care providers should be re-visited to make sure that they all have the chance to compete, regardless of size.
Create a public option for child care
Our public education system is one of the greatest public goods that we have in America. Creating a public child care system would ensure that all families, regardless of income level, have a place to leave their kids when they go to work. This would be a long-term process, as Delaware would be a leader in the public child care realm, but it would create a long-term assurance that all families have a child care option.
Push for funding through bureaucracy reduction and federal grants
Universal child care will be complicated; there’s a reason no other state has implemented one yet. However, steps must be made towards raising the funds needed and designing a functional system with as little overhead as possible. Offices and departments focusing on early childhood education and childcare should be consolidated when possible, and funding should be going to child care workers, not administrators. Additionally, we should be pushing our federal representatives to pass national childcare bills that would grant money to the state, to prevent this program from creating a strain on our budget.
We Need to Reduce the Costs of Parenting
Schooling is not the only place where we are failing young families. Basic necessities like clothes and diapers have gotten more and more expensive while wages have stagnated or fallen. Every year, hundreds of children go into debt for school lunches when food should just be another part of public schooling. We need to make sure that every child has what they need to have a fair shot.
Create a program for ‘baby boxes’ that provide basic supplies to parents
Following the lead of states as diverse as Texas, New Jersey, and Alabama, an opt-in baby box program would send a box of basic necessities like diapers, clothes, and wipes to parents every few weeks starting shortly before birth. This program would reduce the burden of baby costs right out of the gate, while making sure parents know which supplies they will need to successfully raise a child.
Eliminate school lunch debt
Every year in Delaware schools, many students go into debt just from getting their lunch every day. This is absolutely unacceptable. Students should not be shamed for their parents’ inability to afford basic necessities, and all school lunch debt should be eliminated immediately. To prevent any future school lunch debt, the existing free lunch program should be expanded to cover all students that want it.
Promote programs that have schools provide necessities to financially needy students
Parenting costs don’t just stop at baby goods and school lunches. There are kids going to school every day that don’t have basic necessities due to their parents’ inability to pay. Many teachers already help their students with these issues informally, but the burden should not fall on then. The state should fund programs that provide necessities to students that need them, especially in low-income schools, taking the burden off of both the teachers and the parents.
We Need Universal Child Healthcare
A sudden medical emergency with your child can be one of the most harrowing things a parent can face, and we should not be making that worse by polling on huge medical bills. In Delaware, 41% of children are currently either enrolled in Medicaid, some other public health insurance, or uninsured. Through changing the way that our public programs are delivered and expanding who they cover, we can have universal coverage for children that is free at the point of service, so that parents never have to worry about taking their child to the doctor ever again.
Expand the Healthy Children Program to cover all families
Right now, the Healthy Children Program (Delaware’s implementation of CHIP) covers around 14,000 children across the state. However, there are thousands more children on unaffordable or under equipped private plans. A few are still uninsured altogether. The HCP program should be expanded to all families that opt into it, making sure that all children are guaranteed quality, affordable health care. This program should also be expanded to include dental insurance for all children as well as prenatal mothers.
Reduce cost-sharing for the HCP program
Even Medicaid rates can be trying for families in medical situations for their children. Cost-sharing measures such as premiums and deductibles should be eliminated for children from families below the poverty line, and should be reduced as much as possible for other families given budget constraints.
Push for more Medicaid funding from national representatives
While the state can use its own funding to make these changes, whether it be through increased tax brackets or moving funds around, these changes would be much easier with federal help. The Medicaid expansion through Obamacare was a huge boon to poor families, and another expansion of funds to guarantee the changes listed above, along with protections against block-granting and reductions of assistance levels, would be another huge step forward towards universal health care. As state representative, I would push our federal delegation to help make these programs a reality.
The world of parenting has changed drastically in the last couple of generations. As our economy has shifted, the services that we provide as a society have not kept up, and thousands of Delawareans have struggled as a result. This plan is an attempt to move towards a system that is actually responsive to the needs of parents and children, and making sure that Delaware is one of the best places in the country to raise a family.