Child care providers are critical in supporting our children’s foundational academic, social, and emotional development. Yet, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted how much our nation under-values and under-supports this essential work.
Although the child care industry contributes billions to the economy each year, provides children with essential care and instruction, and ensures parents can work, child care providers were not adequately treated and compensated even before the pandemic. Now, because of pandemic-related closures, 330,000 child care jobs were lost in April alone and it’s unclear how many child care providers will be able to re-open. As Congress continues to stall on needed stabilization funding to ensure child care can safely operate and avoid permanent closures, child care providers are contributing their own funds and growing debt to ensure they have the resources they need to stay safe while caring for our children.
Congress’s inaction is also forcing families who were already struggling into making unnecessary and painful choices. Throughout the pandemic, families have been forced to choose between paying their rent or mortgage and paying for child care. Parents have also been forced to choose between working to provide for their families and staying home to care for their children as many child care providers don’t have the resources they need to safely stay open. This burden has fallen especially hard on our nation’s mothers as 2.2 million women have left the workforce largely due to caregiving responsibilities; mothers could face $64.5 billion in lost wages and economic activity if there is continued inaction.
However, these concerning trends for child care providers and families have straightforward solutions. There is bipartisan support for legislation that would stabilize and strengthen the child care industry–including the Child Care is Essential Act (H.R. 7027 and S. 3874) which would provide immediate relief through stabilization grants and the Rebuilding a Better Child Care Infrastructure Act (S. 4688) which would provide immediate relief through Pandemic Child Care Assistance Grants as well as long-term investment. Every version of drafted COVID relief has also included some immediate relief for child care providers including the original HEROES Act which passed the House in May as well as the updated HEROES Act which passed the House in early October. But Senate Leadership has failed to act on any of this promising legislation, leaving our children, families, and child care providers to fill in gaps on their own as best as possible.
This congressional inaction is not due to a lack of funding but rather to a shameful misalignment of priorities. Before the pandemic, our nation was prospering, largely thanks to the essential services of the child care sector. And even during the pandemic, the rich have continued to get richer while families and workers struggle to stay afloat and stay safe. Our nation has the resources to make sure child care providers and families can weather this unprecedented crisis if we prioritize child care and recognize it as a necessity. Congress must pass COVID relief that includes the $50 billion in dedicated funding to stabilize the child care sector as high-quality child care is essential for our children, families, and economy.