My Ontario friends with young children are cautiously jubilant this week. Their province has announced a universally accessible child care plan. Ontario is spending $1.6 billion over five years to create thousands of new subsidized spaces for young children. That’s lovely, you might think, but what about the rest of us?
Toronto families might claim the highest child care costs in the country, but when you break it down by percentage of income, most Canadians, including parents here in New Brunswick, are in a similar tough spot. We’re all paying about one-quarter of our household income on child care, one of the highest rates in the world. (Economists suggest the cost should be more like 10% of our salary.)
New Brunswick’s current answer is to double the amount of daycare subsidies it provides, though the requirements to access that funding remain the same. The federal government pledged $500 million this year to start a national program but few details have emerged. I’m not opposed to more funding for low-income families, but neither of these changes will help the thousands of middle-income New Brunswick families struggling to find child care solutions that are affordable and appropriate for their children’s needs.
Even if a national or provincial universal plan was announced today (and something is coming Monday), it would still be years away from implementation. But a Riverview-born woman has a right-now solution. Sara Ehrhardt has a petition before the federal government calling for it to raise the childcare expenses deduction from $8,000 to $28,000 per year – the annual cost for a spot in a publicly-operated daycare in Toronto, where she now lives.
Sara isn’t the only one thinking a tax break for middle-income families is a good idea. The C.D. Howe Institute also included reforms to the current child care tax deduction in a set of recommendations to the federal government. But Sara reminds us it’s more than just daycare spaces and fees.
“We as new parents are being encouraged to save for our children’s university through RESPs, but no one ever talks to us about how we’re going to afford daycare, March Break and summer camps, before and after school care – all elements that working parents need to secure and be able to afford,” says Sara. “No one talks about that. It hugely affects family economics and decision-making. I estimate I will have paid almost $200,000 in child care fees for all those elements over 12 years, the same as a second mortgage and far more than the cost of university. That is something as a caring society that we should be considering.”
Child care solutions often focus on the importance of helping lower income families access care so that they can be active in the workforce. But that leaves those of us in the middle still struggling, with both access and affordability. An increased tax break would complement the subsidies, providing more disposable income for a large portion of our population. This money could be of great benefit to New Brunswick, as a recent report from the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies highlights the difficulty Maritimers have in saving adequately.
While we’re talking childcare solutions, let’s revisit an idea I mentioned last year. Why can’t the province create an app that helps parents find available spaces? Every day I read messages online from families who are lost in an endless stream of phone calls and emails, trying to match up their needs (hours, subsidies, personal care workers, etc.) with local child care options. Licensed child care providers are registered with the province; it can’t be that difficult to turn the online database into a more user-friendly experience that could help both parents and providers.
She Said appears Saturday in the Times & Transcript.