COVID-19 has brought many fundamental issues and needs to the forefront, most notably the need for reliable and affordable child care.

For Owensboro Mayor Tom Watson, Daviess County Judge-Executive Al Mattingly, City Manager Nate Pagan, Owensboro Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Candance Castlen Brake and Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corporation President and CEO Brittaney Johnson now is the time to address the issue.

According to Mattingly, the primary obstacle is the regulatory nightmare designed by the state.

“Even before COVID-19, there were many business leaders and other entities around the community that wanted to get into providing child care, especially for their employees,” he said. “Health and human services, however, has a lot of regulations regarding being able to offer these services. Many have found that it is a regulatory nightmare. Of course regulations are important to offer the proper protections, but not to the detriment of workers and their families. Where we are at now with job insecurity, child care, especially in terms of private business, is something that the government should stay out of. Especially when it comes to private businesses wanting to offer the service to their employees. I think you would find that the employees would be brought in to aid their employers in developing these services. To allow the community to grow you need three major things, affordable housing, low-cost transportation and especially low-cost child care.”

The regulations are so restrictive that they have even prevented the city government from offering child care programs to its employees, Watson said.

“We tried doing it for our employees and it just came down to us not being able to due to these regulations,” he said. “I understand government oversight but it comes to a point where they scare the heck out of people trying to do the right thing. I would love to see our state leaders look at these regulations regarding child care and figure out a way to give employers the opportunity to provide child care to their employees.”

At one point in fact, the city even did a survey of their employees to nail down the need, which was great, said Pagan.

“Our goal was to provide this service to our employees with elementary, school-aged children,” he said. “Especially now with the A-B scheduling for schools, that service would have been a major help to our employees. We had hoped to adapt our model for day camps in the summer to a year-round program, but our main obstacle was the state’s restrictions for child care, specifically the lack of options available. For instance, we would have fallen under the requirements for a day care center wanting to offer services for pre-K age children or toddlers, which is in no way related to what we were trying to achieve. My hope is that the state will reevaluate the language and restrictions to give us the opportunity to provide that service to our employees.”

Aside from providing a much needed service to parents and children, the ability for local governments and businesses to steer their own ship in terms of certain services is vital, especially in terms of economic development, said Brake.

“We are 100% in favor of local communities being able to make their own determination in a lot of areas that the state tries to legislate,” she said. “Taxing, revenue, self-governance, child care; these are all things that should be determined locally as to best serve each respective community’s needs. Our local businesses and community leaders need that flexibility and would make sure that they were absolutely meeting the needs of the student. For us in Owensboro-Daviess County, that flexibility is absolutely critical.”

In reality, any changes would have to made on the state level and it seems that the best solution would be to simply hand the reigns over to individual communities, who are more than ready to take charge, said Johnson.

“It has always been an issue, and like with many things, the pandemic has brought it front and center,” she said. “We have several organizations that are willing to step up, especially now that the school schedule is so different. The conversation has been ongoing, but now it is a greater issue than it has ever been. Any steps that allow our corporate citizens to be innovative is only a positive. But they have to have those resources and the ability to be nimble in their innovations. Our employers are seeing the need and are more than willing to address it. Not only would the ability to dictate our own child care systems help us address the issue, but it would make us more attractive as a community and allow us to not only recruit and retain talented people, but also continue to grow.”

Jacob Mulliken, 270-228-2837, jmulliken@messenger-inquirer.com

Jacob Mulliken, 270-228-2837, jmulliken@messenger-inquirer.com

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