The child care sector was already fragile when the pandemic struck, causing immense damage.
In 2021, recognizing the urgency of the situation, Congress stepped in and issued $52 billion in grants, primarily through the American Rescue Plan, to stabilize the industry. These grants, which were provided to states to improve the affordability, availability and quality of child care, became a lifeline for child care programs and families across the nation. They also represented the single largest infusion of federal funds to the child care sector in U.S. history. The funding directly supported quality care and early learning opportunities for our nation’s youngest children.
With the expiration date of these grants approaching this fall, there is an urgent need for Congress to take action and reauthorize them. Failure to do so would have dire consequences, causing widespread economic impact and exacerbating the existing strain on the child care system.
During the pandemic, nearly 10,000 family child care (FCC) programs, many of which were led by diverse providers, were forced to close their doors. This crisis has severely limited affordable and accessible child care options for families, and the burden falls particularly heavily on working parents, especially mothers, who have had to juggle work and child care responsibilities. As a result, many parents have been forced to make difficult choices, such as reducing work hours, relying on subpar child care arrangements or leaving the workforce altogether.
The Impact of Child Care Stabilization Grants
The provision of child care stabilization grants has been crucial in providing essential support to FCC providers, who offer child care services in their homes. That’s critical because more American children spend time in home-based child care than any other setting. Research shows these programs are likely to serve infants, toddlers and children from low-income families, families of color, immigrant families and those residing in child care deserts. As the executive director of the National Association of Family Child Care (NAFCC), a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering the FCC workforce, I have personally witnessed the tangible impact of these grants.
In 2022, NAFCC partnered with the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) to survey nearly 13,000 FCC providers about whether and how they used the child care stabilization grants — and to better understand what might happen if the funding is not renewed. The results revealed that 75 percent of child care directors and 85 percent of family child care owners received these funds, which they used to cover expenses, maintain high-quality care and increase accessibility for families. Survey participants shared that the grants were instrumental in preventing program closures and providing stability to the child care sector. In fact, 39 percent of FCC providers who received the grants said their program “would be closed without the support”. Many used the grants to improve their child care facility, hire additional staff or increase their own compensation. This relief was key, as small business owners, home-based child care providers live off their earnings, which is often well below minimum wage.
Tamitha Blackmon, founder and director of the Nehemiah Christian School, a FCC program in Texas was one of the survey respondents. In one of her responses, she wrote: “The stabilization grants provided me with the chance to raise my employee’s hourly wages and provide her with a bonus. This support has greatly enhanced the sense of camaraderie in our workplace. As a result, my employee can now concentrate on her work instead of worrying about day-to-day financial matters.” Blackmon added: “These grants have enabled me to compensate myself as well. Normally, I prioritize paying my employee, but now I can ensure fair compensation for my own efforts.”
If this funding isn’t renewed, $37 billion are set to expire Sept. 30, leaving a gaping hole in an already strained and underfunded child care sector. Unlike public schools funded through broad-based taxes, child care programs rely heavily on fees from parents, making it prohibitively expensive for many families and leaving child care workers poorly paid.
Support for a Stable and Quality Child Care System
To ensure the stability and quality of the child care system, policymakers must increase public funding and support for the child care industry. It’s clear that the industry is currently facing a crisis, but it is difficult to fully grasp the extent of its severity without considering the impact of pandemic funding — and we cannot predict the potential worsening of the situation once the funding support expires.
Congress must extend the child care stabilization grants and provide additional federal investments. To ensure that the funding best serves the early care and education workforce, Congress must actively conduct ongoing research with a range of providers including family child care professionals, to understand their unique challenges and involve their voices in decision-making for the profession.
Child care professionals — predominantly women (94 percent) and often mothers themselves — are the unsung heroes of our communities. These dedicated individuals create a nurturing and secure environment, providing a second home for our children. Additionally, 40 percent of child care providers are people of color, bringing invaluable perspectives and cultural understanding to their work. By providing ongoing federal funds to support these underrepresented groups and their businesses, we have the opportunity to uplift their voices, celebrate their contributions and create a stronger and more vibrant child care sector.
Congress has a critical responsibility to secure the future of child care by reauthorizing the child care stabilization grants. We must recognize the vital role of child care professionals and invest in their well-being, enabling them to continue their essential work. By prioritizing increased funding, involving the voices of the professionals caring for our youngest children in decision-making processes, and conducting continuous research to deeply understand their roadblocks, we can build a robust child care system that supports families, empowers educators and ensures a brighter future for our children.