Federal COVID-19 response must include support for child care
As families, communities, and lawmakers in Ohio and Washington grapple with the COVID-19 crisis, child care remains a central pillar for family security and stability. Child care is also critical to our nation’s economy. Yet, for decades, state and federal policymakers have failed to ensure all parents can get high-quality, affordable child care. They also have failed to make sure that those providing child care are paid enough to live with dignity. This is the result of a lack of public dollars and political will.
COVID-19 is exposing major gaps in our child care infrastructure. Congress must take immediate action to address the stress on the child care system that’s putting more pressure on children, families, child care staff, and providers.
Widespread school closures have created an immediate crisis for workers whose jobs don’t allow the flexibility to work from home, which disproportionately impacts Black and Hispanic workers. Without child care, thousands of essential workers, including pharmacists, nurses, first responders, doctors, social workers, bankers, grocers, and child care staff, cannot go to work. Sustained closures will destabilize families and the state’s economy.
On March 22, Governor DeWine announced that all child care facilities will be closed by March 26 except for those that are granted temporary pandemic child care center licenses by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. Pandemic child care centers will provide child care for workers performing essential services, like people who work in health and safety fields.
Policymakers can’t leave child care workers and providers behind. While a necessary step to protect public health, Governor DeWine’s order to close child care centers that are not licensed to provide pandemic child care threatens to force many providers out of business permanently. Most child care programs operate on thin margins. If the providers are closed, they will not have revenue to pay their staff, rent, and other operational costs without public support.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) surveyed over 6,000 child care providers across the nation between March 12 and 16 to better understand the impact a closure could have on a program during this crisis. Thirty percent said they would not survive a closure of more than two weeks without significant public funding to compensate staff, pay rent, and cover other fixed costs. Another 16% said they wouldn’t survive longer than a month.
Based on the data from NAEYC, the country could lose half of our child care capacity in the next four weeks. This would be devastating for working parents and child care workers who are mostly women and disproportionately Black and Hispanic women. Child care workers will lose their jobs and income necessary to afford basic necessities, like groceries, rent, and health care. Hundreds of thousands of parents have lost their jobs or reduced their hours, jeopardizing their financial security. Struggling parents should not be expected to pay the cost to sustain child care centers during the weeks or months they cannot use them. Child care providers also can’t be expected to make up the difference between what families can pay and what it costs to care for their children. Without public funding, childcare centers will close.
Inaction in this moment could irreparably harm our child care system. Policymakers must act now to protect children, families, child care staff, and the child care infrastructure in Ohio and across the nation. Families need federal leaders to provide support to ensure child care options are available after this crisis, whether that is in two months or 18 months.
Over the weekend, Senate Republicans released their proposal for a third COVID-19 stimulus package. Their bill included only $3 billion in funding for child care through the Child Care Development Block Grant. This is far too little based on the child care needs across the nation. Senate Democrats sent a letter to Senate leadership to support $50 billion for child care in their proposal.
Congress must act swiftly to provide $50 billion in funding for child care to states. This funding can accomplish three goals. First, it will help child care providers stay afloat after they are ordered to close. Child care providers in all settings need federal funds now to help pay staff and cover rent and other fixed costs. Providers receiving funding should be required to provide paid leave to staff. Second, funding is needed to ensure providers who stay open can maintain a safe, healthy environment. Providers need funds to maintain a clean environment and provide training and medical support for staff on health and safety practices in response to the virus. Finally, federal funds can ensure essential workers, including health care providers, grocers, and child care workers across the nation have access to child care.
The third stimulus package must make sure we all have what we need to be healthy and secure – regardless of the color of our skin or how much money we make. People being laid off and people who work low-wage jobs will be most harmed by the pandemic and looming recession. The stimulus must include expanded aid to states, paid leave, unemployment insurance, and housing assistance to stabilize families, communities, and the economy.