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Sen. Bob Casey says help is on the way for families

Local child care advocates welcomed news of the expansion of the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit under the American Rescue Plan for helping them better serve families in need.

U.S. Sen. Robert Casey, D-Scranton, talked about that expansion and the American Rescue Plan recently signed into legislation Tuesday with officials from community organizations including the YMCA and STEP Inc.

Fifty million people, Casey said, including one in four kids, are facing hunger issues due to COVID-19.

“I can’t imagine that,” he said. “I never faced that. I hope no one who is part of this discussion has faced that in their life.”

Under the tax credit, working parents can receive up to $4,000 for child care expenses for one child and up to $8,000 for two or more kids. The American Rescue Plan also includes significant investments in nutrition assistance to address food insecurity among children.

Casey noted the legislation is estimated to cut child poverty in half.

Rachelle Abbott, chief operations and planning officer, STEP Inc., said COVID-19 greatly impacted how her agency has reached out to serve its clients.

“Child care is a big concern,” she said.

In the past year, with schools facing challenges to stay open on a regular schedule due to the pandemic, child care plans have become difficult for parents.

Many families, Abbott said, also face issues of food insecurity, housing and paying utility bills.

“The American Rescue Plan addresses many of the concerns as identified through the (STEP’s) Community Needs Assessment,” she said.

Sarah Watson, a Susquehanna County resident and mother, said the tax credit and American Rescue Plan will certainly help her family.

“I make less than $40,000 a year with two children,” she said. “Day care is something I can’t afford.”

Melissa Kerschner, director of the Early Learning Resource Center Region 7 covering Lycoming, Clinton and Tioga counties, noted the past year has been very difficult for many people.

“We have families who have been clients for six years and their situation has not improved,” she said.

Chad Eberhart, CEO of River Valley YMCA, said serving the public with its programs and providing child care services has become a real challenge.

“We serve four counties with 540 children in 21 different sites,” he said.

He agreed many parents face the task of finding care for their children on a day-to-day basis with schools closing their doors many days.

“We are continuing to focus our attention on building what schools are offering to children,” he said.

The hope, he said, is for the YMCA to continue with services and programs including educational field trips for kids.

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