The latest indication that child care is in the spotlight came Wednesday morning with a letter to House leadership sent by 84 House Democrats, led by Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.). They are seeking $100 billion to not only rescue the child care industry, reeling from pandemic-related closures and costs, but to invest in its long-term future. Reps. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.), Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) were among those signing on to the letter.
Half of the $100 billion would go toward keeping ailing child care providers afloat amid the pandemic and is similar to a proposal from Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Tina Smith (D-Minn.). The remaining $50 billion would go toward increasing funding long-term for child care.
“It is long past time that we treat child care as the economic essential that it is,” Clark told HuffPost in an interview Tuesday. Without more funding for child care, a reopening of the economy will be vastly more difficult, she said. Americans with kids at home won’t be able to simply get back to work.
“We hope we can be reopening schools and child care providers sometime within the next five to six months,” Clark said. “We have to have providers ready to meet that need.”
Though she called the sum of $100 billion “breathtakingly large,” Clark said it was comparable to the bailout money allocated to other industries.
Democrats were hardly ignoring the issue of child care before COVID-19. A child care bill proposed last year has 175 sponsors from the party and the support of one House Republican.
Still, the pandemic has put the issue of child care on a whole new level as parents all over the country cope with school and child care center closures.
“Now that people have their children at home, they’re realizing just how much work it is and how much they rely on child care to do their jobs,” said Katie Hamm, vice president of early childhood policy at the Center for American Progress. Parents who are essential workers are watching their child care providers put their health and safety on the line to care for children during this time, she added.
“The fact that we’re talking billions of dollars is significant,” she said. “That’s not a conversation we were having five years ago.”
Yet, without more public intervention, it’s not clear that child care providers will bounce back from the crisis. Without real help, half of the licensed providers are at risk of permanently closing down, according to a recent analysis from the Center for American Progress.
“Allowing them to go under would be a potentially crippling blow to an already wounded financial state for our country,” said Clark, who’s long supported child care issues.
Women, in particular, would face a double-whammy if the industry sees a big decline. Ninety-four percent of child care providers are women ― they’d be put out of work if providers see a major contraction. Not only that, millions of women who depend on these providers would also be thrown out of work. When child care is not available, it is typically women who step out of the workforce to look after children.
Congress allocated $3.5 billion toward funding child care centers as part of the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act in March, but advocates say that’s far short of what’s needed to keep the industry afloat. It would take about $9.6 billion a month to keep going amid closures, according to an analysis from the Center for Law and Social Policy.
Like Warren’s proposal, which was also for $50 billion, Clark wants to get child care centers the cash they need to simply stay in business and pay workers while they’re closed.
For those providers still open, the money would go toward dealing with the elevated costs of providing child care during a public health emergency. Centers need to spend more time on such things as cleaning, screening kids’ health and implementing social distancing, all while coping with reduced enrollment.
The remainder of the funds would go toward the future of child care ― building more infrastructure to deal with the shortage of licensed providers that was already an issue before the pandemic. Clark would also increase funding for teacher training and education, and send more support to parents who struggle to afford quality care by beefing up the child care tax credit.
Critical to her pitch: Raising pay for child care providers. Right now, the people who are caring for America’s young children are among the lowest paid in the country, earning an average of $11 an hour.
Those low wages essentially subsidize the entire industry, Hamm pointed out.
Clark’s proposal is one of a flurry of big ideas coming from lawmakers as Congress readies yet another coronavirus bailout package. On Tuesday, House and Senate Democrats jointly proposed extended unemployment benefits. There’s also a push for hazard pay for essential workers and for an expansion of paid sick leave.
Republicans’ ideas include tax cuts and offering companies protection from liability if they’re sued over coronavirus safety issues.
It’s unclear whether an ambitious child care bailout would actually pass a Republican-controlled Senate and gain White House approval. Advocates are hopeful.
“The chances are a lot better than I’ve seen before,” said Hamm, who says there’s bipartisan interest in the issue.
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