Improving access to child care will be a priority in the 2024 legislative session

by The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry

KANSAS CITY – After measures to increase access to child care in Missouri failed in the last week of the legislative session, supporters of that legislation have vowed to bring it back in 2024.

That was the message delivered on Thursday, April 3, 2023, during a child care issue forum sponsored by the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.

Among those addressing the crowd were Rep. Brenda Shields (R-St. Joseph) and Sen. Lauren Arthur (D-Kansas City), who sponsored child care tax credit legislation that had bipartisan support during the 2023 legislative session. This innovative legislative package would have increased the capacity of child care providers and helped businesses offer child care benefits to support the retention and recruitment of employees. 

In a 2021 report from the Missouri Chamber, 28 percent of respondents said that they or someone in their household left a job or did not take a job because of problems with child care. Jamie Birch, Gov. Mike Parson’s director of policy, said the governor will continue to push lawmakers to offer more child care help to the state’s parents and businesses. “The governor sees child care as a huge part of workforce development,” Birch said. “In 2022, there was a study on capacity for licensed child care slots in the state. We found we only have enough capacity to serve 39 percent of kids under 6 years old. We also found that about 77 percent of the counties – that’s 89 out of 115 counties – are considered a child care desert.”

Also on the panel was Wendy Doyle, CEO of United WE, who told the crowd that if women were fully participating in the work force in Missouri, the state could grow its economy by as much as 15 percent. Scott Gage, vice president of support services at Children’s Mercy Kansas City, added that 80 percent of the hospital’s employees are women. Arthur said she is grateful to work with Shields on this topic and for the leadership provided by the governor and the Missouri Chamber in helping to frame this as a workforce issue. “I think this has sometimes been relegated as a women’s or family issue, but they have demonstrated how important this is to address our long-term economic growth in Missouri,” Arthur said.

Shields said she was amazed at how many lawmakers didn’t understand this crisis in our state. “I beg of you, business leaders, to contact your state legislators and tell them over and over that child care issues are one of the No. 1 reasons why employees can’t come to work,” Shields said.