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Opinion: Childcare call to action: Tax credits aren’t the solution

By Jina Belcher, executive director of the New River Gorge Regional Development Authority

In the latest legislative session, despite the introduction of 13 childcare bills, none passed. This stark statistic speaks volumes about our priorities—or lack thereof—when it comes to the backbone of our workforce and economic development: childcare.

Childcare is not just a family issue; it is critical infrastructure that supports the very fabric of our economy. Yet, as federal government initiatives have expanded the childcare development block grant funding, West Virginia stands out for the wrong reasons—we are one of the few states that has consistently decreased matching funds to support this grant. This retreat from responsibility undermines our children’s future and our economic stability.

The federal mandate for enrollment-based funding was a step in the right direction, but it came without the necessary financial support. Now, a $23 million funding gap looms over us for this fiscal year, threatening to disrupt our childcare system unless the state steps up to fulfill its duty. Without these funds, childcare providers across our state face the grim reality of shutting down, which would compound an already dire situation. Already, 61% of West Virginia employees lack sufficient childcare coverage for their children, a gap that will only widen if we fail to act.

The New River Gorge Regional Development Authority (NRGRDA) recognizes the critical role that consistent, quality childcare plays in retaining and attracting new business to the state. As the Executive Director of NRGRDA, I see firsthand how essential these services are not only to current families but also to prospective businesses considering West Virginia as a home. Quality childcare is a key factor in their decision-making process, and our state’s ability to provide this can set us apart in the competitive landscape of business development.

Governor Jim Justice has called a special session that presents a critical opportunity however, the priorities aren’t aligned with the need. We must secure the $23 million needed this fiscal year to ensure that childcare providers can continue to operate. Without this funding, every other effort to incentivize or support childcare, including tax credits, become moot.

We owe a debt of gratitude to the champions tirelessly working towards solutions, including the West Virginia Association for Young Children, MomsRising, and the numerous providers on the front lines. These organizations and individuals see the challenges and potential solutions firsthand, and their insights are invaluable as we navigate this crisis.

To our legislators: it is your responsibility to ensure that our state’s children and families have the support they need. It is your responsibility to retain the workforce needed throughout WV. Fund the $23 million gap. Listen to and stand with our childcare providers. Uphold your duty to the children and families of West Virginia. The future of our state depends on it.

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Jina Belcher is executive director of the New River Gorge Regional Development Authority whose mission is to initiate, facilitate and support the economic and community development efforts within the counties of Fayette, Nicholas, Raleigh, and Summers located in this region of southern West Virginia. Jina resides with her family in Beckley, W.Va.

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