Bailout for child care centers?
Many providers going under just as parents get ready to return to work
has become agonizingly clear to parents of young children that the economy cannot fully reopen without child care. Yet a number of child care providers have not been able to survive the lockdown.
The sector was already fragile: Unlike public education, the child care industry operates almost entirely on private tuition payments, and most providers are barely profitable. With closings because of the coronavirus, many cannot continue to pay landlords or teachers.
Now that more states are allowing child care centers to reopen, those that survived face higher expenses because of additional rules about sanitation and new limits, like no more than 10 children per classroom. In some cases, enrollment is down because parents can no longer afford to pay or they’re worried about the health risks.
Some Democrats have long argued that the country should guarantee care and education for children 0 to 5 just as it does for those 5 to 18. Now some members of Congress are proposing giving child care the treatment afforded other industries: a bailout.
Congressional Democrats have twin bills that would provide $50 billion to cover operating expenses, new safety measures and tuition relief for families. The House version, whose lead sponsor is Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., was introduced Wednesday, with the Senate version expected next week from Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.
Sens. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., offered a resolution last week that the next virus relief package include $25 billion for child care providers.
“You really can’t talk about reopening the economy without a conversation about how children are going to be taken care of,” DeLauro said.
Even before the pandemic, finding affordable providers was a struggle for many families.
Now, half the child care supply in the country is potentially at risk of closing permanently, according to an analysis by the Center for American Progress. It combined the center’s data on child care availability with a March survey of 6,000 providers by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. SevIt enteen percent said they could not survive any closure without government support; 30% said they could not survive more than two weeks; and 16% could not survive more than a month.
Proponents of subsidized early education have generally made two arguments. One is it’s good for children. Research has shown that high-quality programs improve children’s academic, social and emotional skills, and close gaps between rich and poor children. The second is that it’s good for the economy, because it enables parents to work.
But now there’s another factor: public health. Parents might prefer to keep children home or with a family or friend. Or they might prioritize a small program or one with stringent coronavirus prevention measures over intellectual or social stimulation.
“From a child development perspective, kids hugging each other, sliding down the slide together, playing dress-up together are really important,” said Rhian Evans Allvin, chief executive of the National Association for the Education of Young Children. “But then when you look at it from a public health perspective and the need to socially distance and have strict rules about how to interact, it’s a very difficult situation for parents.”
Members of the National Guard use a bleach solution to help clean toys in March at a community center in Scarsdale, New York.