RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – A bipartisan group of lawmakers filed a series of bills Thursday aimed at keeping centers open as they struggle to hire and retain employees are warning that the state’s childcare system is nearing “a cliff.”

Daphne Alsiyao held her eight-month-old daughter Ella Rose as she talked about the challenge of trying to maintain her job while struggling to find childcare. 

“I’m juggling everything. I feel like I’m not 100 percent there for my job. I’m not 100 percent there for her,” she said. 

A mother of three, Alsiyao said her mom has helped her watch her kids. But this week, they’re picking up the keys for their new home and moving from Rockingham to Forsyth County. She’s searched for a childcare center where she could enroll Ella Rose but is struggling.  

“We threw affordable in our budget out the window pretty quickly,” she said. “We’re on so many different wait lists.” 

With many families facing similar challenges, it’s been a contributing factor to the challenge for businesses trying to hire people to work. The North Carolina Chamber of Commerce is backing the bipartisan package of legislation filed Thursday. 

“Without access to childcare, parents can’t go back to work and employers will continue to struggle to hire workers,” said Sen. Jay Chaudhuri (D-Wake). 

The lawmakers sponsoring those bills say their top priority is to allocate $300 million in state funding to continue a federal program implemented during the pandemic to help keep childcare centers open and pay workers higher wages. 

“The federal government has propped up childcare over the last two years, and we’ve got a cliff that we are facing coming up,” said Rep. David Willis (R-Union). “Without those dollars we’re going to lose a significant number of childcare providers across the state. It has to be our number one priority.” 

Under the American Rescue Plan, North Carolina childcare centers received more than $835 million in federal funding, Gov. Roy Cooper (D) wrote in a letter last week to members of the state’s Congressional delegation urging them to provide ongoing funding for childcare. 

“Our under-resourced child care system is strained to its breaking point,” Cooper writes. “Many child care centers are struggling to keep their doors open, and many child care teachers have left the field.”  

He also noted that as of 2021, the state has 3,120 fewer childcare workers than if pre-pandemic employment trends had continued. 

In addition to the funding request, the bipartisan group in the General Assembly proposed other reforms including: providing additional pre- and post-natal care for expectant mothers; increasing childcare subsidy rates; reforming a state rating system for childcare centers; and launching a pilot program in three counties where the cost of childcare would be shared among businesses, the state and families. The three counties would have to be determined by the NC Dept. of Health and Human Services. 

“Folks, I think we that we have got to completely rethink how we look after and take care of our children,” said Sen. Jim Burgin (R-Harnett).  

Republican legislative leaders are still discussing what to include in their budget proposal. The leaders of the House and Senate announced this week they’ve reached an agreement to increase total spending next fiscal year by 6.5 percent and to increase that number again by 3.5 percent the following year. They have not outlined any specific ways they plan to spend that money.  

The House of Representatives will unveil its budget proposal first. Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) said his chamber could hold votes the first week of April.