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Alaska GOP legislator's child care bill advances towards a final House vote

Anchorage Daily News - 2/10/2024

Feb. 9—JUNEAU — An Alaska House Republican's child care bill advanced on Thursday towards a final vote on the House floor.

Alaska's beleaguered child care sector has long struggled with long waitlists, low wages and high tuition costs. House Bill 89 was introduced last year by Anchorage GOP Rep. Julie Coulombe as a way to give corporations child care tax credits, and to subsidize tuition costs for more children.

A handful of Democrats and independents signed on last year to co-sponsor Coulombe's measure, which advanced on Thursday without objection from the powerful House Finance Committee.

The child care bill would expand the income threshold for families that can receive subsidies for tuition costs. The state Department of Health estimates that an additional 18,000 Alaska kids under 12 would meet the new criteria for financial assistance.

Families who receive the subsidies would have a maximum co-pay of 7% of their monthly incomes on child care under the measure.

The federal government currently pays all the child care subsidies received by low-income families in Alaska. Under Coulombe's bill, the state anticipates needing to contribute $5.6 million per year for the newly-eligible children.

Coulombe said the bill's price tag has frustrated some progressive legislators as too small to see major changes for the child care sector, and too expensive for some of her conservative Republican colleagues.

"I have concerns on both sides of the aisle, so that means I'm in the middle," she said on Friday. "It's good."

Under HB 89, publicly-traded corporations in Alaska, like ConocoPhillips and Walmart, would be eligible for dollar-for-dollar tax credits to subsidize their employees' child care costs. They could also get tax credits to establish their own child care centers or to make donations to existing providers.

The state Department of Revenue said it's not known how many corporations would want to participate in the program, meaning it's not possible to estimate how much those tax credits would cost the state treasury.

Republican state legislators across the nation have increasingly supported state assistance for child care as an economic issue. One 2021 report estimated that Alaska could be losing out on $165 million per year from a lack of child care availability.

Coulombe said a lack of child care in Alaska has been blamed on employees missing substantial time at work.Citing federal data, she noted that women make up 60% of Alaska's workforce.

"And as long as Alaska's energy, housing and grocery prices keep growing, parents — single and married — will have to work to keep up," she said to the House Finance Committee.

Republican Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy established a child care task force last year to make recommendations to improve the sector. The task force's first report was released in December with calls from advocates for substantial new state assistance.

The child care measure has attracted some bipartisan interest. Anchorage Democratic Rep. Zack Fields, one of the bill's co-sponsors, said on Friday that there is broad support for the measure in the sharply divided state House.

After the bill advanced on Thursday, Fairbanks Republican Rep. Frank Tomaszewski congratulated Coulombe for "the blood, sweat and the tears that you have poured into this."

Rep. Alyse Galvin, an Anchorage independent, supports the child care bill passing into law this year, but wanted the state to directly subsidize child care providers. Last year, legislators approved a $7.5-million temporary salary boost for child care workers.

Coulombe said she hoped to see HB 89 on the House floor soon. After advancing from the House, the child care bill would need approval from the state Senate to pass onto the governor's desk for his consideration.

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(c)2024 the Alaska Dispatch News (Anchorage, Alaska)

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