Congress must act on child care crisis
Pandemic shines a bright light on an already broken system
CHILD CARE IS an essential component of our national economic infrastructure, as fundamental as our roads and bridges. Just ask any parent performing essential services during the pandemic, or any mom or dad juggling kids and working from home.
Ask any parent in America and they will tell you that quality, affordable child care has always been hard to find, but the coronavirus has pulled back the curtain on the fragility of our child care system that has for too long been undervalued and underfunded.
The child care crisis has a particularly acute impact on women. A lack of federal investment has forced the child care sector, which is operated almost exclusively by women, to run on razor thin margins with an underpaid workforce. The high cost and inaccessibility of care, holds back millions of moms from pursuing their dreams and achieving in their careers outside of the home. The Mom Project found that 81 percent of women cite child care as a significant factor in their decision to be in the workforce. Moreover, child care is a well-known contributor to the persistent gender pay gap.
Now, the coronavirus has pushed an already fractured system to its breaking point. With women making up one third of our essential workforce, the forced closures of child care centers, and parents doubling as both employees and caregivers, we’re facing the perfect storm.
Families already struggling to pay their bills are wondering who’s going to care for their kids when the economy reopens. Employer are contemplating who can actually return to work with closed care centers and schools.
The reality is that reopening without child care will push moms and women further back—and we can’t allow that.
Enough is enough. Child care is too important to fail.
Last week, I authored a proposal, supported by 84 of my House colleagues, calling for a $100 billion investment in our child care system to aid in the relief, recovery, and revitalization of the child care sector.
The first step of this proposal is to help current providers survive by providing $50 billion in short-term stabilization funding to sustain providers that have been forced to close due to COVID-19, and to fund emergency care for the 6 million children of essential workers.
But simply maintaining our current inadequate system is not enough. We must come out of this crisis better than when we came in. After we have successfully stabilized the child care sector, I propose investing $50 billion in long-term recovery funding to improve child care for both parents and providers.
To support our parents, I’m calling for an extension of the grace period to use a Dependent Care Assistance Plan, enhancing and making the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit refundable, providing an increase in mandatory federal child care funding so more families can access subsidized child care, as well as making child care more accessible to student parents.
Finally, we must honor our teachers, who often are mothers themselves struggling to pay for care. This proposal would provide $20 million per year for a student loan repayment program that will help support the training and readiness of our teachers, helping ensure both quality of care for our kids and quality of life for our teachers.
This is a big plan but we can’t Band-Aid ourselves back to “normal.” Normal wasn’t working for moms before the pandemic and it definitely won’t work after.With a significant investment, we can reopen while re-envisioning an economy that works for all families. And the time to do it is now.
Congresswoman Katherine Clark represents the Fifth District of Massachusetts and is vice chair of the House Democratic Caucus.