Child care doesn’t need to break the bank

Child care doesn’t need to break the bank
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This week, parents from across the country will return to Washington to demand quality affordable child care from Congress — parents such as Monique Rosas from San Diego, who as a single mother relied on friends and family to watch her son because she could not afford consistent, licensed care. Although this generosity helped Rosas, her son did not get consistent early education programming. This patchwork of care prevented Rosas from making long-term plans and affected their livelihood, creating an incredibly stressful situation.

The FY 2018 appropriations bill passed in the Senate includes an increase of $2.37 billion in the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), funding that is critical in supporting child care professionals, providers and families across the country. Yet the unfortunate truth is that there are millions of parents like Rosas, mothers and fathers who lie awake at night worrying about the kind of care their children are getting and how they can afford to pay for child care. Annually, working families without access to affordable child care and paid family and medical leave lose a combined $28.9 billion in wages.

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According to the Department of Health and Human Services, “affordable” child care should constitute only 10 percent of a family’s expenses. In America today, that is laughable. Research by our organization has found that child care costs exceed that rate in 42 states and the District of Columbia for two-parent households, and single parents often pay as much as 36 percent of their income toward child care. In real terms, that means child care can cost more than housing or college tuition from coast to coast.

 

This problem can be solved, but policymakers and the private sector together must ensure continued investment in the needs of working parents and their children.

First, we need more child care providers. We need to encourage passionate educators to choose this field, and we need to reduce barriers for small business owners to create licensed child care centers. One issue providers face is administrative barriers because licensing differs from state to state. Often, the challenge is accessing and determining professional development opportunities and continuing quality improvement.

At the same time, we must ensure that child care providers offer quality programs and safe environments for children. Congress and local governments have a role to play in these solutions, and should not wait any longer to enact commonsense legislation and regulation, such as the Child Care for Working Families Act, which would alleviate many burdens and strengthen quality child care in communities.

Many parents rely on federal tax credits for families and employers to help pay for child care, but available tax credits are piecemeal and vary from state to state, providing an average benefit of only $550 per year. Benefits such as the Dependent Care Tax Credit are not available for parents who attend school part time, meaning that parents who work and want to improve their economic condition by furthering their education cannot receive additional support. Early Head Start programs, which foster a child’s academic and behavioral success, are underfunded and, as a result, serve only 4 percent of eligible children.

Second, we need to support parents. Parents need paid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act so that they can care for their children; currently the law provides unpaid leave only for employees of companies with 50 or more employees. Additionally, some families need subsidies for child care so that they can thrive in those first years that are often the hardest and most expensive. The CCDBG ensures that states make subsidies available to families to support child care.

Third, we need employers to recognize and meet the needs of parents. Research has found that U.S. businesses lose approximately $4.4 billion annually because of employee absenteeism resulting from breakdowns in child care. There are private-sector options that can increase access to quality care, starting with large companies offering onsite care. Such programs can reduce absenteeism by 60 percent and help attract top talent to a company’s workforce.

In Monique Rosas’s case, she ultimately found a child care provider that helped her to access a child care subsidy so that her son could participate in a high-quality program that she could afford. This provided her with more than peace of mind; it set her son on a path to fulfill his potential while supporting her financial security. This is how the American Dream starts, and we hope to make it a dream that becomes reality for more families.

Lynette Fraga is executive director of Child Care Aware® of America, a national membership-based nonprofit organization founded in 1987 to advance affordability, accessibility, development and learning of children in child care.