RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — City leaders have announced a proposal to use around $19 million in the annual gaming tax revenue from the proposed destination Richmond casino to create a trust fund intended to address what the City is calling a “child care crisis,” which is expected to worsen at the end of September.
This proposal follows an initiative — announced earlier this year by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Hampton Roads) — which was said to provide universal preschool and affordable child care in a $55 billion program. Supporters of the proposed program claim it would reduce the cost of child care for many, expand existing public preschool programs and give a boost to the child care industry.
The Office of Mayor Levar Stoney said that for every eight infants and toddlers from families in Central Virginia with incomes under 200% of the federal poverty level, there is only one publicly funded child care slot available.
This rate described by the Mayor’s Office comes before pandemic-era federal funding is set to expire, which is expected to cause a dramatic increase in unmet childcare needs.
Because of this end of funding, it is estimated that an expected 88,000 children in Virginia will lose their child care, according to the Office of the Mayor. Further, over 1,300 childcare programs are projected to close, causing parents “to lose about $280 million in earnings due to being forced to cut work hours or leave the workforce.”
“So many of our children step up to home plate with one hand behind their back and coming out of the pandemic with a blindfold on,” said Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras. “What this [proposal] will do is untie their hands, lift that blindfold and help our children exceed at school and in life.”
According to the Office of the Mayor, the proposed fund that would be generated if the casino was approved “will make early child care and education more affordable by providing tuition assistance to Richmond families, grants to certain community-based providers to improve facilities and increase their capacity and support Richmonders who teach and care for our youngest children by providing aid and technical assistance to obtain credentials that will allow them to increase their earnings.”
Additionally, using the upfront payment of $26.5 million from the proposed destination resort casino, the City said it intends to:
- Build new child care and education centers at T.B. Smith and Southside Community Centers (currently estimated at $7 million each)
- Dedicate $8 million to Parks and Recreation projects across the city
- Allocate $4.5 million into the Child Care and Education Trust Fund to expand access to affordable child care and education programs
“This a very stable revenue stream that can be consistent for many, many, many years,” Stoney said. “Outside of that, the alternative is us trying to find ways through raising taxes, using the revenues that we currently have.”
Last week, 8News spoke to some residents who still had apprehension about the project, such as Paul Goodman who said he believes the casino could potentially exploit residents.
“I say put the interests of the city first, put the interest of all the citizens like you want the city to improve,” Goodman said. “You’re not going to improve it by bringing in a casino, a no-bid project to our city. And I just hope people will think that think about that.”
The casino referendum will be a part of elections on Nov. 7. Early voting for that election will begin on Sept. 22.