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Plan to improve child care unveiled

The Baltimore Sun

Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger says he hopes to strengthen the nation's child care industry and ease the financial burden it puts on working families with a bill that he announced at a day care facility in Hanover.

"Blue collar, white collar, whatever," Ruppersberger said, "families are suffering and we need to give relief to these people."

Ruppersberger, a Cockeysville Democrat and soon-to-be grandfather, announced Wednesday at the Childtime Learning Center that when Congress returns from the holiday break, he will introduce the Right Start Child Care and Education Act of 2007.

One goal of the bill is to increase the child care tax credit from $3,000 to $5,000 per child, with a limit of $10,000.

According to a report issued by the Maryland Committee for Children, the average estimated day care cost for a household with two children in the state can run from $8,993 in Somerset County to $19,920 in Howard County.

Derek Spink, an Odenton resident, has been taking his 18-month-old son, Conner, to Childtime since he was 7 weeks old and estimates that he and his wife, who both hold full-time government jobs, pay more than $12,000 a year for child care.

He said their current tax credit is $600 because of their tax bracket.

"Anything would help," Spink said.

Maryland has close to 200,000 licensed child care centers, all of which are generally at capacity, and "the demand is expected to triple by 2011," said JoAnn Johnson, vice president of operations for the Learning Care Group, Childtime's parent company.

Workers have the option of contributing $5,000 into the Dependent Care Assistance Program, which means they get $5,000 worth of on-site child care or reimbursement from their employer for off-site care. This contribution is made with pretax dollars, which means savings at tax time.

It may not be the best option for some families, however, said Steve Jost, legislative director for Ruppersberger. The bill is about increasing options, he said.

Businesses receive a maximum tax credit of $150,000 as an incentive to construct workplace child care facilities. The bill would boost that to $225,000, Ruppersberger said. The bill would also provide incentives to improve the quality of child care.

College graduates with degrees in early childhood education, child care or a related field would receive a credit of $2,000, for a maximum of three years, to work as child care providers.

Child care is second to mortgages as American families' greatest expense, Ruppersberger said.

Spink said that if he and his wife have a second child, their monthly child care bills will eclipse their mortgage payments.

"Middle America needs help," Ruppersberger said, "I think helping children is the best way."

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