public-policy newsletter

No Reopening Without Child Care

May 18, 2020

By Zachary Tashman

Access to child care programs is an essential cornerstone in building lasting societal health and well-being. Not only do child care facilities provide employment to more than 2 million professionals, quality early childhood education plays a critical role in lifelong cognitive development for children and increasing labor force participation for parents. By supporting early childhood education we give parents professional flexibility, children a foundation to fulfill their potential, and communities a source of economic prosperity.

Unfortunately, the majority of child care establishments are facing financial insolvency due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A pair of surveys conducted by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) found that 63 percent of child care providers would be unable to survive a closure lasting longer than a month without significant external support, and nearly half of child care facilities are already entirely closed due to the Coronavirus. Of the more than 6,000 providers surveyed, only 11 percent were confident they could survive an indefinite hold on their operations without support. Federal policymakers must take immediate action to ensure that child care providers are given the resources necessary to continue their vital mission during this crisis and to be leaders in the community rebuilding process.

The CARES Act, which was signed into law in March, provided an additional $3.5 billion in emergency funding to states through the Child Care & Development Block Grant (CCDBG). This funding is being used to help child care providers with decreased enrollment to maintain or resume their operations, as well as give child care assistance to essential Coronavirus response workers regardless of income eligibility. The CARES Act also provides an additional $750 million to Head Start to meet administrative expenses and provide summer learning programs. Though this emergency funding — along with other CARES Act provisions, such as Small Business Administration loans and employer retention tax credits — are positive short-term policy achievements, they are not nearly enough to ensure the survival of many child care providers.

Even before the Coronavirus crisis, child care providers were operating on razor-thin margins with federal subsidies that were failing to keep up with rising demand for their services. With the recent spike in unemployment, many families will no longer be able to afford the childcare fees necessary to keep providers in business, all while child care facilities are being asked to remain open in most states. We cannot expect these providers to keep their doors open indefinitely to millions of children each day without the financial certainty that can only be achieved through swift Congressional action. Leading advocates in the child care sector are requesting that Congress allocate at least $50 billion dedicated to helping child care providers weather the immediate economic storm and lay a foundation for them to operate at full capacity when millions of parents return to work.

Next Steps

Shortly after the scale and duration of the Coronavirus pandemic became evident, Congressional allies moved quickly to propose legislation aimed at supporting child care providers and families. The National Human Serves Assembly would like to highlight two plans in particular that comprehensively address the needs of the child care sector.

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), a long time advocate for universal child care, has proposed a $50 billion emergency funding package to stabilize the child care system. Sen. Warren’s plan, which is supported by 30 Senate colleagues, would be divided into three main funding categories. First, is an increase in paid leave and hazard pay for child care workers, as well as the elimination of all child care fees for the more than 6 million children of essential workers during this crisis. Second, are child care facility grants to fully pay staff salaries, cover mortgage or rent payments, provide employee benefits, and pay other operational expenses. These funds can also be used to train workers on new health and safety procedures and to give families virtual learning opportunities and mental health support. Third, is long-term funding dedicated to improving child care infrastructure and increasing wages for child care workers.

Representative Katherine Clark (D-MA) has proposed a $100 billion investment in child care, divided equally between immediate pandemic stabilization and sustained long-term recovery. The initial $50 billion would be used to provide financial relief to child care providers in order to cover the expense of remaining open during the crisis. The $50 billion in long term investment would be used to expand current funding and tax credits that support families while also creating grant programs for workforce development and child care infrastructure. Provisions in this plan that would reduce the cost of child care include: making the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit fully refundable, increasing federal funding of Child Care Entitlement to States, reauthorizing the Child Care Access Means Parents in School program, and bolstering Head Start. Additionally, this proposal would authorize the funding of new programs such as competitive grants to support the renovation and new construction of child care facilities, and student loan forgiveness for early childhood educators. This plan has the backing of 84 members of the House.

Unfortunately, despite the widespread support for both of these proposals, neither of them have been incorporated in the most recent Coronavirus stimulus package. Though the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act (HEROES Act) would provide an additional $7 billion in dedicated child care funding through the CCDBG, it still falls far short of the targeted amount necessary. Prior to this crisis there was an economic cost of $57 billion annually “in lost earnings, productivity and revenue” due to lack of access to child care. A relatively small investment now has the potential to revive our economy and put money back in the pockets of working families. However, with more than 350,000 child care professionals out of the workforce in just the past two months, there is no guarantee that this sector will bounce back even to its pre-crisis capacity. The NHSA urges Congressional leadership to provide the child care community with adequate resources that reflect the outsized economic and social benefit of their services. By supporting children we set them up to be successful adults who fulfill their potential and contribute to society, thus benefiting our collective prosperity.

The National Assembly will continue to track federal child care policy updates. For more information on this and other human service issues contact our policy team.