Many parents depend on child care as an essential service, and more so during a time of a national emergency such as we have today.
Governors have ordered the closure of public schools serving K-12 students throughout the country. Parents who must continue to work under these extraordinary circumstances — such as those employed in hospitals, pharmacies, public safety and grocery stores — need a safe place of care for their children.
Fortunately, Congress is expected to vote on a third emergency legislative package this week. We need to ensure any economic package, including this one and any follow-up bill, contains support for child care programs to address immediate and longer term challenges.
Child care programs across all states are closing. Unlike public schools, which are publicly funded such that principals do not have to worry about paying their staff, mortgage or leases, utilities, insurance or other operating costs, the already precarious child care economic model is being pushed to the brink.
Without sufficient operating revenue, child care staff cannot be paid and fixed costs cannot be met. Individuals with children who are on the front lines of this emergency are struggling to find child care so that they can perform their critical jobs within our communities.
According to the report Child Care in State Economies 2019, from the Committee for Economic Development of The Conference Board, the child care industry lives on $48 billion in revenue a year, primarily through private-pay fees.
The industry is currently crashing as programs struggle to stay staffed and operate while telecommuting parents with school-age children are keeping their children home. But parents with essential jobs who need to go to work under this emergency declaration are challenged to locate available child care.
Funding for child care should be included as Congress considers the next COVID-19 emergency package. Economic disruption support is needed to help child care providers meet the costs of operating their programs. CED’s child care economic impact report shows revenue of $4 billion per month (about $48 billion per year).
If on average about 75 percent of that revenue is used to pay wages (which may be covered under paid leave or unemployment), the remaining 25 percent for fixed expenses still must be paid whether a program is open or not (e.g., the lease or mortgage on a property, insurance, etc.).
Personnel designated as essential and who must continue to work during this national pandemic need access to child care. For example, an estimated 29 million people (based on Bureau of Labor Statistics data) are employed in jobs related to healthcare, public safety and grocery stores/food processing.
Those who have young children or school-age children where the school setting was also their form of child care during the day need access to child care.
Closed child care programs are not just a problem for today. Many programs may be unable to reopen. We all hope that at some point in the next several months we will return to a healthy and normal way of life. But for the child care industry, the future is very uncertain.
Their revenue is dependent on parent fees. It is challenging for these small business to borrow funding to survive when it is unlikely they can pay it back in the long term.
Parents were already strained with the cost of child care prior to this national emergency. The child care industry cannot double its fees to pay off debt incurred in this troubled time.
That is what makes child care such a tenuous service. Yet parents with young children must have access to child care to participate in the workplace.
The cost of keeping the child care system operating and afloat during the next six months is estimated at $10.5 billion. For the next nine months, it is estimated at $15.8 billion.
Even prior to COVID-19, numerous national studies showed state-by-state “child care deserts” — where the need for child care far exceeded the supply. That problem will only worsen should more programs close, never to reopen.
This is a national problem for both the short term and the long term. Congress must ensure that child care programs are a core component of any economic support packages moving forward.
Our nation’s families, employers and workforce depend on it.