Jordyn Rossignol (left), owner of Miss Jordyn's Child Care and Preschool, speaks with RSU 39 Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum Jane McCall and Maine Senate President Troy Jackson on July 21, 2022, about the need for greater child care access in Aroostook County. Credit: Melissa Lizotte / Aroostook Republican

AUGUSTA, Maine — A proposed overhaul of Maine’s child care system that initially drew skepticism from Gov. Janet Mills’ administration now has a clearer path to passage.

The bill from Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, includes several provisions meant to chip away at a nationwide issue that has affected urban and rural parts of Maine, which saw its number of home-based child care centers drop by more than a quarter during the pandemic.

Jackson’s bill, among various provisions, would double the monthly wage stipend for child care workers from $200 to $400 and expand subsidies to families making up to 125 percent of the state’s median income.

That income limit is currently 85 percent, equaling about $84,000 for a family of four.

The Health and Human Services Committee voted 7-5 Thursday to support the bill as it heads to the House and Senate, with all Democrats in favor and all Republicans opposed.

The Mills administration opposed the initial version of the bill. Office of Child and Family Services Director Todd Landry testified last month that it is “significantly underfunded” and would “complicate and duplicate” existing work.

The initial proposal sought roughly $30 million per year to make the changes. Jackson said last week that discussions with the Department of Health and Human Services and Maine Revenue Services led to a rough estimate of $11 million more needed to implement the bill, growing it above $40 million.

But after Jackson and DHHS worked to make additional technical changes to find consensus on the bill, the updated fiscal note is around $36 million, the Senate leader’s office said.

“I think we have a pretty good product,” Jackson said, commending DHHS for working with him on the measure that has Democratic and Republican cosponsors.

The amended bill also took out a provision creating a task force to make various child care recommendations to the Office of Child and Family Services.

The roughly 4,700 child care workers in Maine make an average annual income of $32,080, according to the most recently available data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The diverse, bipartisan mix of backers behind Jackson’s measure includes business interests like the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and HospitalityMaine along with progressive groups, such as the Maine Women’s Lobby and Maine People’s Alliance, whom they often fight on economic and labor issues.

Supporters have pointed to a 2021 survey that found 85 percent of Maine’s child care centers were experiencing staff shortages primarily due to low wages.

The bill asks DHHS to submit an annual report on child care subsidies to the Health and Human Services Committee and implement a program by 2030 that limits the cost of child care to no more than 7 percent of a household’s income for a family earning up to 250 percent of the median family income.

Billy Kobin is a politics reporter who joined the Bangor Daily News in 2023. He grew up in Wisconsin and previously worked at The Indianapolis Star and The Courier Journal (Louisville, Ky.) after graduating...