Childcare affordability, accessibility is a problem. SC lawmakers say they want to change that
"The regulations are going to be key to meet family needs and child safety, along with quality," said S.C. House Education Committee Chairwoman Shannon Erickson.
Quality childcare can be unaffordable and hard to find.
With so few options, parents can sit on wait lists for months, even years.
A growing nationwide problem, South Carolina lawmakers say they're ready to make serious changes to state law that would benefit parents and children and, in turn, expand the state's workforce pool and bolster the economy.
On Thursday, a bipartisan group of six House-Senate lawmakers met for the first time, charged with addressing and drafting legislation on the availability and affordability of childcare.
The hearing came on the same day a South Carolina report from ReadyNation was released that said that childcare costs families, businesses and taxpayers about $1.4 billion each year.
The panel, launched in September by Senate President Thomas Alexander, R-Oconee, and House Speaker Murrell Smith, R-Sumter, is co-chaired by Republicans Sen. Ross Turner of Greenville and Beaufort Rep. Shannon Erickson, who works in the childcare industry.
"This will not be a short-term issue," Erickson, who also chairs the S.C. House Education and Public Works Committee, said during Thursday's brief hearing. "It's going to be multi-faceted."
State Rep. Neal Collins, a Pickens Republican and the only member of the legislative committee with a child of childcare age, told reporters Thursday the biggest concern he's heard from other parents is access.
There's too few childcare facilities, which drives up cost and decreases options, he said.
It's also a workforce problem, said Collins, a father to an 18-month-old daughter.
"The good thing about this (issue), is I think this affects every sector in South Carolina," Collins said. "I think it affects every community in South Carolina. I think it's already an issue. I think the public is going to support whatever good recommendations we have."
The 2024 legislative session starts Jan. 9.
And while a complete policy overhaul could be hard to reach in the last of a two-year session, Erickson said a "low-hanging fruit" for lawmakers might be regulation changes.
"The regulations are going to be key to meet family needs and child safety, along with quality," Erickson said.
Given the holiday season, the panel is expected to meet virtually in December to hear from advocacy and childcare-related groups. Other lawmakers said Thursday they'd like to hear from insurance companies, the state chamber and other stakeholders who can pinpoint problems and help draft solutions.
"When you have schools going to virtual one day, when you have (the) workforce doing different things, it's difficult to ensure that you have a safe place for your child and that place be where you can afford it," Collins said.