On Tuesday, June 23, 2020, the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Worker and Family Support held a hearing on the status of child care during the pandemic and the recession. In his opening remarks, Chairman Danny Davis (D-IL) said that, in Illinois, nearly half of all available child care slots are at risk of disappearing altogether due to the pandemic and 60 percent of child care programs in Chicago are closed. He went on to point out that there was already a shortage in his hometown before the pandemic and recession. He also said, “When I see the devastation caused by this pandemic and the barriers to work due to child care, I am offended by claims that people will refuse to work because of the availability of supplemental unemployment benefits. This charge is simplistic and refuted by data showing that low wage workers pay and work and return to work even when faced with unsafe working conditions…”

 

Davis said we should not enact policies that would penalize communities weighed down by poverty and racism instead of investing in quality child care and families.

 

Ranking Member Congresswoman Jackie Walorski (R-IN) said she had met with several child care directors and providers in her Indiana district and discussed the challenges they are facing through the pandemic. She concluded by saying that, “Child care is exactly the type of smart investment we should be prioritizing as we say fully reopen and rebuild America’s economy.”

 

The witnesses were Rasheed Malik, Senior Policy Analyst, Center for American Progress, Dr. Aaliyah Samuel, Executive Vice President of Government Affairs and Partnerships, Northwest Evaluation Association, and Non-Resident Fellow at Harvard Center for the Developing Child; Jennifer Sullivan, Secretary of the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration.

 

Rasheed Malik highlighted child care industry challenges pointing out that it is a highly skilled and diverse workforce, but they are 90 percent women and undervalued. In addition, “By comparing these child care locations with the nearby population of young children, we have been able to study what we term “child care deserts,” or areas where there are not enough nearby licensed child care options to serve families that may need it. Based on our analysis of child care supply in every U.S. census tract, we found that approximately 51% of all families with young children live in a child care desert.” 

 

The Center recommends: increased compensation and providing professional development for early childhood educators; building the supply of quality child care options available near home or work; and significantly reduce costs for families so that all children can access early learning opportunities regardless of their household income. 

 

Dr. Samuel also discussed the child care desert and said, “Some child care centers, which already operated on thin margins, were compelled to close due to lack of attendance because of parents concerns about their child’s health. Currently, half a million child care slots will be permanently lost. A national survey found that nearly half of low-income families are not going to be able to return to prior child care arrangements post-pandemic which is “crippling to the workforce.” He recommended continued increases in investment in the child care industry and its infrastructure and endorsed the Child Care is Essential Act, a $50 billion commitment to the Child Care Development Block Grant.

 

Finally, Secretary Sullivan discussed circumstances in Indiana and how the state was able to take some early strong actions, including defining child care as essential. But she also talked about the challenges from the pandemic. For families care for an infant costs $3,500, which is more per year than the cost of in-state tuition at a university; For parents, they must pay $1,000 per month for an infant and $800 per month for a four-year-old child. In regard to challenges for early childhood educators: most child care businesses could not survive more than two weeks without revenue, and more than one-half of educators are enrolled in a public assistance program like SNAP or TANF.  

 

She said funding should be allocated to states to allow more agile funding mechanisms for the early childhood education system. Innovation should be encouraged and rewarded through funding opportunities and then scaled when demonstrated to show better child outcomes and more sustainable business practices. 

 

States that can demonstrate strong public-private partnerships should also be able to expand those partnerships through federal funds to scale effective models and share with other states the possibilities of systemic changes to early childhood education systems.

 

Congresswoman Gwen Moore (D-WS) also highlighted the shortage of quality child care before the pandemic. She said, “Access has been an ongoing obstacle as we elevate the need to ensure equitable outcomes for all children, but it has been especially difficult for parents and children of color. Prior to the pandemic, 51 percent of the country lived in a child care desert, widening the disparities in early childhood care for communities of color and families facing economic insecurity.”

 

Congresswoman Judy Chu (D-CA) highlighted her co-sponsorship of H.R. 7027, the Child Care is Essential Act, introduced by Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), legislation.

 

CWLA has endorsed the legislation in both the House and Senate. Congresswoman Chu included in her concerns that relief needs to also “…it prioritizes making grants to child care providers who serve dual language learners. Children with disabilities, children experiencing homelessness children in foster care children from low income families or infants and toddlers.” 

 

About the Author:

John Sciamanna is CWLA's Vice President of Public Policy.

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