Two members of the Anchorage Assembly say the high cost of child care in Anchorage is keeping young parents from running for office and the government should help elected officials shoulder some of the expense.
Assembly members Forrest Dunbar and Suzanne LaFrance have proposed a $5,000 annual subsidy for employees of the Assembly department, which includes elected Assembly members, members of the city clerk's office, election officials and the city ombudsman's office.
The money would cover a portion of the cost of child care. In Anchorage, the rates at licensed child care centers range from about $10,000 to $15,000 a year for an average family, according to the ordinance being introduced to the Assembly next Tuesday.
"One of the main goals of this is to try to open up access to serving on the Assembly for families with young children," Dunbar, who represents East Anchorage, said in an interview.
Having a child younger than 6 is among the qualifications for the subsidy, according to the ordinance. No current Anchorage Assembly members would qualify, and Dunbar said he was only aware of only one other person within the Assembly department who would meet the requirements.
During a February panel with elected women in public office, a question came up about how to get more single moms serving on the Assembly, said LaFrance, who represents South Anchorage.
Child care is a big barrier, said LaFrance, who has three children between the ages of 10 and 14. She said she feels she's able to serve because her children are older, and she also has a supportive spouse, family and employer.
"Without those three things…I can't imagine being a breastfeeding mom," LaFrance said. "But what a great perspective to have, as far as elected officials representing our city."
At first, if approved, the measure would only affect the Assembly department. The city's Salaries and Emoluments Commission, a third-party group that sets the salaries of elected officials, would have to sign off on the change for Assembly members.
Other city departments could sign on later, Dunbar said, though that would require a separate proposal and vote to amend city law. Kristin DeSmith, a spokeswoman for Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, said a broader child care subsidy was not under consideration at this time.
Dunbar and LaFrance say the ordinance fits into a national trend to find ways to reduce burdens for working parents. Dunbar pointed to a 2002 federal appropriations bill that allowed federal agencies to provide child care assistance to employees.
Dunbar said he hoped the Assembly department could serve as a test case for bigger changes in the future.
"Let's take this positive step forward, not let perfect be the enemy of the good, and see if we can expand it later," Dunbar said.
The Assembly is expected to debate the proposal in the coming weeks.
Clarification: An earlier version of this story inadvertently omitted part of a quote from Suzanne LaFrance. LaFrance said she could not imagine serving on the Assembly as a breastfeeding mom if she did not have a supportive spouse, family and employer.