Gov. Phil Murphy signed a $28 million grant program into law Thursday aimed at expanding the availability and improving the quality of infant and toddler child care options in New Jersey, which serves 4,700 fewer children since the pandemic-driven business shutdowns in 2020.
The “Thriving by Three Act” (S2476) was one of several bills the Democratic governor signed that focus on family and affordability concerns in the Garden State. Others included a child tax credit for households earning under $80,000 and seven measures that simplify the process of obtaining Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, once known as food stamps.
State Senate Majority Leader Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex, the prime sponsor of the tax credit and child care bills, said between the legislation and the newly approved state budget, “We continued with our focus on affordability, providing property tax relief for both renters and homeowners and tax credits for families with young children.”
Thriving by Three will award one-time grants to provide an incentive for licensed child care providers, registered family day care providers and Head Start programs to open new centers serving infants and toddlers.
Priority will be given to those who agree to operate in a low-income area, in a community that lacks sufficient child care options or are willing to expand existing centers, according to the bill. Grants will also be awarded to day care facilities that agree to hire staff with specific degrees and credentials in early child development.
The $28 million comes from the American Rescue Plan, the federal coronavirus pandemic relief effort and the state budget, according to the bill.
“We know that access to affordable child care improves outcomes and pays dividends, allowing more parents to return to the workforce, at a time when we need it most,” Ruiz said.
Most child care centers in New Jersey were forced close in the first 16 months of the pandemic to comply with state shutdown orders. Nearly one in five mothers of infants and toddlers left the workforce because of a lack of affordable and accessible child care, according to a report by Ready Nation.
There are 142 fewer child care centers operating in the state, resulting in the loss of 4,700 slots, according to the state Department of Children and Families testimony during the budget hearings in May.
Murphy said in a signing statement released Thursday he supported the aims of the legislation but would only sign it if the grants were limited to existing child care providers — “those with the most expertise in infant and toddler development.”
The original bill included schools. Both houses of the state Legislature agreed to make the change and passed the new version of the bill on Wednesday.
The Democratic governor also signed a law creating a child tax credit program for low-income and middle-income families at a cost of $18 million in the state.
The law creating the tax credit, (S2523) is open to people earning $80,000 or less and file their taxes using a social security numbers or an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, which is often used by undocumented immigrants.
Households earning $30,000 or under will receive $500; over $30,000 but not over $40,000 will receive $400; over $40,000 but not over $50,000 will receive $300; over $50,000 but not more than $60,000 will get $200; and more than $60,000 but not over $80,000 will get $100.
Republican legislators criticized the child tax credit because it is relatively modest and does not allow parents to apply until they file their 2023 taxes, in the spring of 2024.
Republicans said their proposal would make $1,500 available to a wider swath of families right away.
“Democrats aren’t being honest with New Jerseyans who haven’t been told that the tax relief they’ve been promised could be years down the line,” state Sen. Declan O’Scanlon, R-Monmouth, said in a statement Thursday.
The tax credit bill easily passed both houses of the Legislature on Wednesday, by a vote of 76-2 in the Assembly and 31-6 in the Senate.
The governor also signed seven bills into laws that reduce food insecurity — a problem for 1 in 12 state residents:
- Dedicate $750,000 to create a SNAP call center and streamline the application process. (A2359)
- Eliminate employment and training requirements to participate in the NJ SNAP program. (A2360)
- Requires the state Department of Human Services to maintain to conduct additional SNAP outreach campaigns. (A2361)
- Require Human Services officials to apply to the federal government for permission to waive time limits for people childless adults who receive SNAP. (A2362)
- Allocate $250,000 to train employees of the county boards of social services on how to administer SNAP. (A2363)
- Dedicate $813,000 to the Department of Health to people to use electronic benefits transfer cards at Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program. (A2364)
- Establish a State SNAP Minimum Benefit Program allocating $50 to each eligible household, at a $18 million cost to the budget. (A2366)
Murphy has not yet signed the centerpiece of the anti-hunger package led by state Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex — the “Working Class Families’ Anti-Hunger Act” (A2368). It would expand the school breakfasts and lunches program to students in the state from a slightly higher income bracket, adding 26,000 to the rolls. The bill comes with a $19.2 million a year price tag.
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Susan K. Livio may be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @SusanKLivio.