Nearly nine out of 10 of American voters, 86%, support creating a $50 billion bailout for the child-care industry, according to a poll commissioned by the First Five Years Fund and the Center for American Progress in mid July. But lawmakers seem unwilling to meet that funding level, with the latest Republican stimulus package allocating $15 billion for the hard-hit industry.
Republicans rolled out the HEALS Act on Monday night, which provides $5 billion to child-care providers through the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG). This fund is typically used to funnel federal funding into child-care subsidies for low-income families with children under the age of 13. However, under the new legislation, child-care providers can apply for emergency assistance in the case of decreased enrollment or closures related to coronavirus and to ensure they are able to remain open or reopen.
The new legislation also earmarked $10 billion to fund "back to work child-care grants," aimed at helping qualified child-care providers pay for increased costs and operating expenses associated with re-enrolling children amid the coronavirus pandemic. The bill notes that these grants are only available through the end of September and are meant to be used to help child-care providers transition their businesses over a period of nine months.
The measures are set up to provide direct support for child-care facilities to help ensure working parents have access to child care so they can work or return to work.
"The pressures of working full-time and educating multiple kids at home all at once are simply unsustainable over the long term. We need to step it up for them," Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said in a statement.
Monday's Republican relief plan builds on the $3.5 billion in emergency funding Congress allocated to the CCDBG in the first coronavirus stimulus package passed in late March. That funding was not only earmarked to help support providers that may be struggling with low enrollment or closures related to the coronavirus, the legislation stipulated that it could be used to help emergency responders and other essential workers pay for child care.
It's also more than the $7 billion total Democrats initially allocated in the HEROES Act, which passed the House of Representatives in May but has been stalled in the Senate.
Advocates say that while the Republicans' $15 billion in funding for child care is a good starting point, it's not enough.
"The child-care industry needs at least $50 billion in order to ensure providers and workers can stay afloat while keeping themselves and the families they care for safe," says Melissa Boteach, vice president of income security and child care for the National Women's Law Center.
The child-care industry will need $9.6 billion a month in federal assistance to prevent providers from being forced to permanently shut down, according to an analysis by the Center for Law and Social Policy and the National Women's Law Center. If providers don't receive adequate support, the Center for American Progress estimates nearly 4.5 million child-care slots, or about half of the country's capacity, could be lost.
To help stabilize the industry, several Democratic lawmakers, led by Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) introduced the Child Care is Essential Act at the end of May. That legislation would create a $50 billion fund to provide grants to help pay for personnel, sanitation, training and other costs associated with reopening and running a child-care facility right now. That bill is set for a House vote on Wednesday.
"The virus changes care providers' and educators' ability to produce safe care in a way that just takes the old way off the table and requires greater expense," says Aaron Sojourner, labor economist at University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management and researcher on the $50 billion cost analysis.
"We need to make some radical investments to change the way we're doing things," Sojourner says. "We can't just pretend that it's safe to operate the way we used to — it's just not."
Part of those changes are not just adhering to new safety and social distancing guidelines by purchasing personal protective equipment and additional sanitation supplies, he says. Child-care centers also need to acquire or build bigger facilities with more classrooms to accomodate smaller class sizes.
And $15 billion isn't going to be able to provide that level of investment. In fact, based on Sojourner's analysis, the HEALS Act level of funding won't even fully stabilize the industry long term.
"If you're talking about $15 billion, will it work at all? It will work — for about a month and a half," he says, adding that it may mean that many of the roughly 60% of child-care programs that temporarily closed at some point due to coronavirus may remain shuttered. And that will leave many parents either scrambling to find care options so they can return to work or stepping away from the workforce to care for children.
"We cannot resort to half-measures when the very foundation of our economy is at risk of crumbling, and the Senate leadership needs to either match that need by supporting the Child Care Is Essential Act, or reckon with it's own failure to prevent the collapse of this essential industry and the working families who rely upon it," Boteach says.
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