Lack of child care poses major hurdle as businesses reopen
Child care remains a central obstacle to reopening the economy as the school year ends and camps and summer programs remain on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Without child care, there’s no recovery,” said Lynette Fraga, executive director of non-profit Child Care Aware of America.
In the first phase of the pandemic, as hordes of employees found ways to work from home, essential workers needing to show up for work while their children were home faced tough decisions.
With the school year drawing to an end and portions of the economy gradually opening, more people will also be compelled to go back to work, raising questions of how to accommodate children who would normally be in school or at some sort of summer camp.
“As states are starting to reopen and parents are heading back to work, the children are in need of care,” Fraga said.
Adding significantly to the problem is the major hit child care businesses have taken during the pandemic.
“I think one major piece that is so critical to focus on is that when demand increases, there are going to be fewer child care slots available and working parents are going to have a really tough time accessing affordable child care.”
Sade Moonsammy, chief of staff for the Family Values @ Work advocacy group, says child care businesses often run on low margins with little financial buffer, and needed assistance to avoid closures. Many did not make it.
“A lot of them dove into their savings and don’t have enough money to survive,” she said.
In March, a National Association for the Education of Young Children survey found that 63 percent of child care centers said they couldn’t survive a month without help.
The left-leaning Center for American Progress estimated that the pandemic would lead to the erasure of 4.5 million child care slots nationally.
Moonsammy notes that women of color have been particularly affected, as they make up a disproportionate percentage of child care workers. Minority-owned small businesses had more trouble accessing the government’s main emergency small business loan program.
As closures ease and some child care centers reopen, they face public health restrictions that will add significant costs while limiting the number of children – and thus revenue.
In order to stave off further coronavirus outbreaks, child care centers will be forced to accommodate smaller numbers of children in the same space, regularly take children’s temperatures, implement social distancing, and institute a bevy of new sanitization instructions.
“That turns upside down the business model for the child care providers,” said Fraga.
“What’s really needed is support ensuring that when PPE is needed, providers have it, when sanitizing equipment and supplies are needed, they have it,” she added, referring to personal protective equipment.
Providers also need to be trained on the new health restrictions, which will be particularly difficult to enforce among groups of children.
The CARES Act passed by Congress in March allocated $3.7 billion for child care while the HEROES Act passed by the House this month included another $7 billion, but advocates say that the combined total barely covers the $9.6 billion monthly price tag needed to support child care.
On Wednesday, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who heads the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), Chair of the House Education and Labor Committee, introduced a bill to create a $50 billion Child Care Stabilization Fund.
“The workers and small business owners that care for our children while we work desperately need the federal government’s help,” DeLauro said.
The bill’s Senate sponsor, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), said the bill was key to fueling an economic recovery.
“We absolutely cannot overlook the critical role child care will play in our nation’s ability to recover from the current COVID-19 crisis,” she said.
“Right now, frontline workers are relying on access to child care in order to keep our communities safe, healthy and fed. Yet, our entire child care system is struggling to keep doors open for families,” she added.
But the bill was not part of the $3 trillion Heroes Act and doubts remain as to whether it will advance.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has already said he wants to limit the Senate’s version of the bill to $1 trillion.
As summer rolls around and the school year ends, the problem is only set to get worse, noted Moonsammy.
“Most people still send their kids to summer camps over the summer, but those may not reopen, so we’re still going to have a serious child care problem,” she said.
With some school districts discussing staggered school days in the fall that would leave some children at home, the challenge only continues to expand.
“We’re thinking about our little babies and the plan for day care, but also what are the supports for children in upper grade levels?” she said.
“States are not prepared with plans,” she added.
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