Source: Spartanburg Herald-Journal
By Alyssa Mulliger
February 21, 2018
Local representatives visit Statehouse
COLUMBIA — The South Carolina Statehouse was full of foot traffic Wednesday for Public Policy Day, which drew United Way representatives from across the state to meet with legislators about investing in child well-being.
The annual day of advocacy was hosted by the United Way Association of South Carolina, and it allowed members of United Way of the Piedmont’s Women United group to meet one-on-one with several Upstate senators and representatives.
As part of United Way’s focus on programs and resources supporting early childhood development and education, Women United members advocated for funding of the School Readiness Tax Credit pilot program and for the creation of a new state Department of Children’s Advocacy.
The School Readiness Tax Credit program would include tax credits for child care providers and teachers, and advocates say they are designed to help support quality child care by increasing the income levels and professional development opportunities for the early childhood workforce. Advocates also contend they would help working families afford child care costs by letting them keep more of what they have earned in order to cover those costs.
“Access to affordable quality child care is important to everybody because it’s helping prepare our next generation of the workforce,” United Way of the Piedmont President and CEO Paige Stephenson said.
The one-year pilot program would be launched in five counties, which offers a chance to evaluate the impact of the tax credits on local levels before exploring statewide options, advocates say.
State Rep. Stephen Moss, R-Blacksburg, said he has a daughter with a 4-year-old who is learning to read, so he knows the importance of early childhood development. Moss told the Women United group he’d be glad to help with the tax credits program and plans to pull a few people in to help who are involved with children’s issues.
“The families and children that need (child care) the most can’t always afford it,” he said. “I hope we can get something done.”
Moss and other representatives that Women United members met with also voiced support for a bill in the state Senate that would create a new Department of Children’s Advocacy. The department would consolidate several child welfare organizations and create an Office of the Child Advocate, which would function much like an inspector general.
The child advocate would serve as a watchdog for children involved in state agencies like the Department of Social Services and Department of Mental Health.
Of the 454 children in foster care in Spartanburg County in 2017, there were 57 investigations of abuse while in the state’s care, according to the United Way Association of South Carolina.
Stephenson, who met with state Reps. Rita Allison, R-Lyman, and Rosalyn Henderson Myers, D-Spartanburg, one-on-one, said the women were hopeful the Senate would pass the bill.
“They both understood the need and the importance of putting children at the center of those protective discussions, and just how beneficial it would be to have the (Department of Children’s Advocacy) looking at things through the eyes of the child and what was truly best for the child,” she said.
Stephenson said she felt the day went very well and was a good opportunity to tell legislators about a few of the nonprofit’s current initiatives.
Sarah Todd, a member of Women United, said she felt the group was positively received by local legislators.
“They were well-informed on the pending legislation,” she said. “We look forward to hearing about the progress towards children’s advocacy.”
The United Way of the Piedmont has held a Ladies & Legislation event in Columbia in prior years, and this year it coincided with Public Policy Day.
Andrea Moore, who joined Women United in advocating for her second year, said she was excited to learn more about the happenings in the state Legislature and to connect with other United Way groups.
“I enjoy the opportunity to make connections with others around the state and the chance to develop relationships with these other women from Spartanburg who all care about the same issues I care about,” she said.