July 29, 2020; CNBC
As NPQ has covered, COVID-19 has dramatically damaged the childcare industry—including nonprofit, for-profit, and public sector operations. A study by the Center for American Progress, released in April, estimated that as many as 4.5 million childcare slots are at risk. Aaron Sojourner, a labor economist at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, describes the challenge the pandemic poses in comments reported by CNBC:
The virus changes care providers’ and educators’ ability to produce safe care in a way that just takes the old way off the table and requires greater expense. We need to make some radical investments to change the way we’re doing things. We can’t just pretend that it’s safe to operate the way we used to—it’s just not.…we cannot resort to half-measures when the very foundation of our economy is at risk of crumbling.
Signs of the depth of the harm are already visible. In June, as reported by CNBC, the University of Oregon’s RAPID-EC Research Group found that “47 percent of working families have lost the child care they used before the pandemic,” and that number rises to 60 percent when it comes to families using child-care centers. A June survey of working parents showed a third reporting at least one partner had left the workforce or dropped down to part-time. Seventy percent of those who gave up working were women.
These findings corroborate an earlier survey, which said “40 percent of the 5,000 providers surveyed expect to have to close if they do not get financial help soon.” That help measures in the tens of billions of dollars. Efforts to get those funds disbursed have found some support at the federal level. Last week, the House passed the Child Care is Essential Act on a 249–163 vote, with Democrats voting unanimously in favor and 18 Republican representatives also supporting the bill.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), who authored the bill, says, “We’re going to take every opportunity to make sure the Senate gets it across the finish line.” Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) also has spoken out in favor of action, giving some hope of Senate passage. As Shelby remarks:
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The pressures of working full-time and educating multiple kids at home all at once are simply unsustainable over the long term. We need to step it up for them….We cannot assume that business can go on as usual if we don’t meet the needs of working parents where both parents have to work or there’s only one parent who has to support the household or they’re grandparents raising children because of drug overdoses.
The $50 billion Child Care is Essential Act provides funding that can be used to meet the full range of extraordinary costs that responsibly operating under pandemic conditions entails, including:
- Personnel costs, including premium pay, employee benefits, and employee salaries
- Sanitization and cleaning
- Personal protective equipment
- Training and professional development related to health and safety practices
- Fixed costs, including mortgage obligations, rent, utilities, and insurance
- Mental health supports for children and employees.
Another bill, the Child Care for Economic Recovery Act, also passed by the House by a similar margin (250–161), creates a Child Care Development Fund to distribute grants to construct, renovate, or improve child care facilities; adds fund to the Child Care Entitlement to States; and provides funds to pay for child and family care for essential workers.
Meanwhile, the $1 trillion HEALS Act recently introduced by the US Senate only includes $15 billion for childcare.
As it becomes more evident that public schools cannot safely return to full time, in-person education this fall, demands on the childcare system will only grow. Failing to fund it at the appropriate level will have serious consequences, including forcing more children into unsafe care situations and forcing more parents to curtail paid labor. Congressional leaders must recognize the need is real and match words with actions.—Martin Levine