Health and Human Services

Child care provider assistance narrowed, advanced

A bill that would create a new category of eligibility for Nebraska child care providers under the Child Care Subsidy program was amended and advanced from general file Feb. 21.

Sen. John Fredrickson
Sen. John Fredrickson

LB856, introduced by Omaha Sen. John Fredrickson, would exclude all earned and unearned income from eligibility determinations for the Child Care Subsidy program for households with at least one individual who holds employment in a qualifying child care setting.

Under the bill, individuals who pass a criminal background check and are employed at least 20 hours a week at an in-home or licensed child care facility would be eligible for free child care for their own children under the program.

Fredrickson said LB856 is a simple and measurable way to address Nebraska’s child care shortage. Similar programs in other states, including Kentucky and Iowa, have significantly increased the availability of child care, he said.

“[LB856] will create a multiplier effect,” Fredrickson said. “More workers recruited and retained in our child care workforce means more children served and more workers into our overall economy.”

Sen. Mike Jacobson of North Platte spoke in support of the proposal. He said access to adequate and affordable child care is the first barrier parents face when entering the workforce.

“We have shortages in every occupation out there … but we need to begin at the right place,” Jacobson said. “We first have to begin with having sufficient numbers of child care workers and sufficient child care facilities available.”

Under current law, the state Department of Health and Human Services cannot provide a subsidy to a child care provider who cares for their own children. A Health and Human Services Committee amendment, adopted 38-0, would create an exception if an employer has attempted to make reasonable accommodations to ensure that a provider is not caring for their own child but such an accommodation cannot be made.

The committee amendment also would require the department to submit an annual report to the Legislature by Dec. 1 of each year. The report would include the monthly number of enrolled children and households by county and program type.

St. Paul Sen. Fred Meyer supported the bill and the amendment. He said the provisions would help close the wage gap between child care providers and other industries by removing the cost of child care.

Fredrickson introduced an amendment to the committee amendment that would establish the bill as a pilot program scheduled to end on Oct. 1, 2026, and would cap total subsidies at $10 million each year.

Speaking in support of the proposal, Lincoln Sen. Danielle Conrad said LB856 would address a critical need for working families across the state, but she questioned the need to cap the new subsidy. The bill would move the state “in the right direction,” she said, but $10 million a year would not be sufficient to address Nebraska’s child care shortage statewide.

“We need to do more as quickly as possible to deliver for working families and to help move our economy forward,” Conrad said.

Speaking in opposition to LB856, Bayard Sen. Steve Erdman questioned the effectiveness of placing an end date on the proposal. He said he has yet to see a sunset date take effect because lawmakers simply pass new legislation to extend programs once they’re created.

“Don’t count on this being a sunset,” Erdman said.

Sen. Brian Hardin of Gering also opposed the measure. The bill could have a negative impact on the child care industry by opening the door to over-regulation of other areas in the future, he said.

“When you allow the government in and they’re going to pay the cost for you, that sounds welcoming,” Hardin said. “[But] they will then also begin to dictate other things that your business is allowed to do, and not to do.”

After adopting Fredrickson’s amendment on a vote of 38-0, senators voted 35-9 to advance LB856 to select file.

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