Billions of Covid aid funds flow into childcare. Here’s why proponents say more needs to be done to resolve the crisis
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There was already a childcare crisis in America. Then Covid struck.
Day care centers closed. Working parents lost care and childcare workers were unemployed. Parents, namely mothers, left their work or reduced working hours to fill the gap.
The Biden government and Congress responded with $ 39 billion in childcare facilities signed into law last week under the American Rescue Plan Act. This is in addition to the $ 10 billion Congress envisaged in the December aid package.
“Before the pandemic, the US childcare system was in trouble,” said Mario Cardona, director of policy and practice at Child Care Aware of America, an advocacy group that works with local and state childcare and referral agencies.
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“Layer Covid beyond that, and the system in its current form will no longer work for anyone.”
Childcare workers can use the new funds for expenses such as payroll, rent and purchase of sanitary ware. They also need to provide financial relief to families in difficulty. In addition, the new law provides $ 1 billion for the Head Start program.
However, childcare advocates believe that more needs to be done.
“The relief package was about getting us back to the pre-pandemic starting point, which was showing its shortcomings,” said Melissa Boteach, vice president of income security and childcare / early learning at the National Women’s Law Center.
“To rebuild, we need to address the underlying inequalities that made us so vulnerable to the pandemic in the first place.”
For one thing, there has been a lack of support for those who need it most. Only 1 in 6 children who are eligible for childcare allowances receive it, which means that many low-income families have difficulty paying for care, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities found in 2019.
There are also so-called child care deserts where the supply of licensed child care is insufficient to meet the demand. About half of American families with young children live in a childcare desert, according to a 2018 analysis by the Center for American Progress. It warned the pandemic would make it worse.
With less than 0.5% of the country’s gross domestic product spent on childcare, providers rely on tuition fees and workers’ wages are low. They make an average of $ 11.65 an hour and often lack health insurance or paid family vacations.
“The system has to rely on a patchwork of funding flows that place a heavy burden on families to pay the price of care,” Cardona said.
Climb out of the pandemic
For Justin Pasquariello, executive director of the East Boston Social Center, the latest aid package will bring much-needed relief.
The center, a multi-service agency in the Boston area, operates four early intervention centers for children aged 2 months through preschool age. Approximately 90% of the children it serves receive public subsidies or vouchers based on family income, participation in the well-being of the children, or other family needs.
After closing in March, the centers were reopened in the summer – but only few enrollments and higher security hurdles had to be overcome.
Two preschoolers catch up during lunch at the Social Sprouts Preschool at the East Boston Social Center.
Source: East Boston Social Centers
“We had to get all the PPE for the staff,” said Pasquariello. “We had to have dedicated staff to check for health on the way into the house and to get the kids into the classroom from that screening because we couldn’t have parents to come into the building.”
In addition, adjustments were made in the classroom and in the transport system. He predicts a loss of around $ 170,000 this fiscal year.
However, state guidelines for the use of the new aid money have yet to be worked out, said Pasquariello. Fewer children in the centers mean less income, and he hopes the grants will help fill this gap. He also wants it to be used for immediate needs like air filtration systems and increase worker pay.
“We need to keep investing in employee compensation,” said Pasquariello, noting that recruiting and retaining workers was a major challenge for childcare workers even before the pandemic.
The pandemic has highlighted the need to address too long a crisis, proponents argue.
“As governments rebuild their economies, it is time to treat childcare as essential infrastructure – as financially as roads and fiber optic cables,” wrote Melinda Gates in January in the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s annual letter.
“In the long term, this will help create more productive and inclusive economies after the pandemic.”
This week, Assistant House Speaker Katherine Clark, D-Mass., Reintroduced the Childcare Act. It provides childcare workers with $ 10 billion to help renovate facilities and improve infrastructure.
To rebuild, we need to address the underlying inequalities that made us so vulnerable to the pandemic in the first place.
Vice President at the National Women’s Rights Center.
It also approves a student loan repayment program of up to $ 6,000 per year for five years for eligible early childhood educators and up to $ 3,000 per year for eligible individuals pursuing Childhood Development Associate certification or an associate degree.
“Childcare is part of the foundation of our economy,” said Clark at a press conference announcing the bill.
“The economic benefits of childcare are well documented, but so are the economic losses associated with its inaccessibility and our country’s repeated refusal to invest in childcare of the importance it deserves,” she added.
Proponents believe that investing in the system will not only benefit children and their providers, but the economy as a whole.
According to Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman, high-quality, comprehensive early childhood programs offer a 13% return on investment. Research has shown that the return on investment is between $ 4 and $ 9 per dollar invested and between $ 7 and $ 12 per dollar invested.
But instead of thinking about the cost of investing in childcare, NWLC’s Boteach likes to think about the cost of inaction.
The risk of mothers leaving the workforce or cutting hours to care for their children is $ 65.4 billion a year in lost wages and economic activity, according to a report by the left-wing think tank Center for American Progress. There would also be an additional $ 12.2 billion in lost tax revenue.
“We made it such an individual burden,” said Boteach. “In reality it is a public good that helps us all.”
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