How the American Rescue Plan will save the child care industry and put women back to work
Almost exactly one year ago, Kate Aronoff’s child care center closed due to COVID-19. She thought it would be closed for two weeks, and then her 5-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter would be able to return. But then Kate and her husband, who live in the small college town of Corvallis, Oregon, learned it was closing permanently.
“That was a sad bit of news and also anxiety-provoking, because we didn’t know what we were going to do,” says Aronoff, who shared her story with Child Care Aware of America in a YouTube video. “We started calling around to all of the child care centers in our small-ish town to see who might have space and were able to get my children enrolled in another day care. However, two weeks later, we learned that that day care was also closing permanently, which was another big blow.”
Aronoff and her husband both are able to work from home during the pandemic; he does marketing for a local university and she is a mental health counselor who these days does sessions online. But she has no lock on her door in the room she works out of, and her children would occasionally burst in and interrupt confidential sessions with clients.
The situation was not optimal. “Working from home and watching our kids was not going to be an option,” she says.
Aronoff was much luckier than most. Eventually, she was able to hire a worker from the first permanently closed child care center to watch her kids on a part-time basis. She is probably more the exception than the rule in this regard.
By April of 2020, 330,000 child care jobs had been lost – one in every six in the U.S. Between 30 and 50 percent of all child care centers in the country are closed today, according to Child Care Aware, and no one knows how many will come back. An estimated 2.2 million women have left the workforce entirely, mainly because of caregiving issues. The hit to their collective pocketbook: As much as $64.5 billion in lost wages and economic activity.
Now help is on the way, and it is historic.
In what the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) calls “the most significant investment in the sector since World War II,” the recently enacted American Rescue Plan will channel almost $40 billion to rebuilding the child care industry, an industry that already was in crisis even before the pandemic hit.
According to CLASP, nearly $15 billion of the new funding will provide expanded child care assistance through the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) to support families and providers, including supporting the child care needs of essential workers. The remaining nearly $24 billion creates a stabilization fund for eligible child care providers, including those who haven’t previously received funding through CCDBG. Administered by state lead agencies, these funds can support providers who are currently operating or are closed for COVID-19-related reasons. These funds also can stabilize child care programs by covering a range of expenses such as personnel costs, rent, facility maintenance and improvements, personal protective equipment, and COVID-related supplies, goods and services needed to resume providing care, mental health supports for children and early educators, and reimbursement costs associated with the pandemic.
(To see a helpful CLASP chart laying out how much money each state will receive, go here.)
Re-opening child care centers will help a variety of Americans. It will help women (particularly single mothers) return to the work force. It will help women – particularly Black and Latinx women – who disproportionately staff the centers. It will help the kids who depend on the care.
In a recent interview with National Public Radio, Carol Burnett, who advocates for child care centers as Executive Director of the Mississippi Low-Income Child Care Initiative, called the money “a game changer” for mothers in a state that ranks near the bottom when it comes to poverty.
“The moms that we work with – whether they’re trying to get out of a domestic violence situation, to move to economic security, whether they’re trying to get out of poverty, whether they’re trying to get out of a job where there is no pathway to higher income above minimum wage – child care is the support service they most need and making child care affordable for them,” Burnett said.
Astonishingly, the funds allocated for child care in the American Rescue Plan are enough for Mississippi to serve 80 percent of children who qualify for support – up sharply from the 28 percent Burnett said are currently served. “It’s an opportunity that has never come along before,” Burnett says.
The new child care funding will benefit single parents with low incomes the most, including many single parents of color. However, it is also true that middle class families will benefit.
In tiny Corvallis, Oregon, Kate Aronoff can count four child care centers that have closed permanently. But it is not like there was a surplus of child care slots even before the pandemic hit.
“We already had wait lists,” Aronoff said. “My kids have been on a wait list for one child care center from when we moved here four years ago and we still have not gotten in. From where I sit as a parent, I feel like the solution to the child care crisis has to come from the government. It has to come from funding from the government — state, federal, both, I believe, have to step up and save our crumbling child care industry. Because it is vital to our economy.”
Women were hit harder by job loss than men in the pandemic recession, in part because women were the ones who stayed home to care for their children when schools and child care centers closed. Child care will be “built back better,” in the coming months, as President Biden promised. Continuing to serve most eligible families in future years will be the “game changer” we need for a sustained recovery.