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Rep. Hill proposes legislation to address rural childcare access

Jill Penley
Freelance Writer

Across Tennessee, there are more than 181,400 working parents with children under age five, resulting in the need for childcare to support employment and career advancement. Childcare is an important aspect in a family’s economic security, not to mention the positive aspect of early childhood development. While families across the nation are facing barriers to finding and paying for quality child care, rural areas like Johnson County are hit the hardest. With only two licensed childcare facilities, parents are sometimes faced with long waiting lists. Rep Timothy Hill (R-Blountville), House Commerce Committee Chairman, has filed legislation designed to address long-standing childcare needs for rural Tennessee families, especially those in Northeast Tennessee.

“Access to safe, reliable childcare services has troubled our communities for several years, and this solution will cut through government bureaucracy to address a great need for our families,” said Rep Hill. “I will continue to fight for additional resources that support them, and that also ensures the safety of our children is
never jeopardized by those who are responsible for their care.”

As written, the legislation, HB 2689, would allow unlicensed childcare providers to operate in counties with a population of less than 50,000 in hopes of increasing accessibility to childcare in rural communities.
“I’m working with Governor Lee and the administration to find a solution on behalf of Johnson County,” said Rep. Hill, “but also on behalf of the entire state.” Rep. Hill realizes there is a genuine need and acknowledges; in some instances, the state has become a barrier.

“We want to go into those in-home facilities that are currently unlicensed that are willing to take more than four children. Try to work with the department of human services to determine what that number might be, which we’re looking at more than four and probably not more than ten and include training, include proper staff to children ratios, and include accountability measures because the ultimate goal is to balance the safety of the child first with access.”

HB2689, as proposed, requires the department of human services to create a $10 million fund to provide unlicensed care providers in rural counties with assistance in making facility upgrades for licensure; allows care providers in rural counties to provide childcare for up to 10 children without being licensed if certain conditions are met.

“The bill would require care providers to undergo 10 hours of training and facilities would still be subject to Tennessee Department of Human Services regulations,” explained Rep Hill, “and parents would actually sign an acknowledgment that an in-home childcare facility is not licensed by the State of Tennessee.”

While heralded by some, others have serious concerns about the proposed legislation. “The safety of children is my biggest concern,”said Jacqueline Mann, owner of In the Beginning Lighthouse of Love and Laughter, located in Mountain City. “It sounds like, though, they want to monitor what’s already going on anyway, and it’s a concern here in our county.”