Congress must protect child care services. Workers cannot be in two places at once.
Every weekday during the semester, I wake up by 8 a.m. to get ready for class at my small, primarily white, liberal arts college in the wealthy Orlando suburb that is Winter Park. Once I step out of my apartment, my first destination is the on-campus café where I pick up my Chai Latte on the way to class. The young woman that works the morning shift on weekdays knows all of us students by name and always remembers my order. Despite all that she does to make my campus a welcoming environment for me, I had never considered what it was like for her as a food service worker at a private university. It wasn’t until I learned of a union organizing effort among cafeteria workers that I realized the need for reform.
There hasn’t been much support for unions in the United States in decades, and in right-to-work states like Florida, the situation is even more bleak. Though it doesn’t seem like there currently is much hope for strong pro-union legislation in Congress given the status of bills such as the PRO Act, there are other opportunities to advocate for workers, such as the ones on my campus, on a federal level. A lack of child care is one specific issue that workers at my school face as employees of the multinational corporation, Sodexo, which supplies the school with food services. Child care is an issue that working-class parents all over the country struggle with. Especially in cases like this where many employees aren’t making a living wage, they can barely afford rent and food, let alone child care.
One of the workers at my college who is a single mother had to choose between paying rent and celebrating her daughter’s birthday. To hear stories like this as a student at the college is upsetting to say the least, but it reminds us that we need to strongly advocate for pro-worker policies that at least have a chance at passing the current Congress – and affordable child care is one area that in the past has attracted bipartisan support.
The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in Congressional approval of record increases in child care subsidies due to the unprecedented events, and it is important for the momentum to continue since the cost of living is increasing.
The Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), first enacted by Congress in 2014, continues to be an essential piece of legislation in supporting working class families in America, as well as Head Start which has provided services for over 37 million children in low-income families since 1965. However, with impending budget negotiations coupled with Republican efforts to link critical human needs programs to raising or suspending the debt ceiling, programs like CCDBG and Head Start are at risk of facing cuts that people simply cannot afford.
If workers at my college need to work endless hours or multiple jobs to make ends meet, how are they supposed to take care of their children simultaneously? Most employers do not provide their workers with child care benefits, which means that if the government doesn’t fill this gap, we are leaving millions of low-income families in a vulnerable position, forcing parents either to leave work to stay home with their children or to work, relying on unstable or substandard care.
The United States is one of only six affluent countries in the world that does not require employers to provide paid parental leave, which means that if Congress doesn’t treat CCDBG and Head Start as budget priorities, they are sending the message to working American parents that the federal government does not have their back. People need living wages as well as affordable childcare, without these conditions they cannot support themselves and their families or maintain stable employment.