Child care workers were considered essential employees during the height of the pandemic, but the value implied by that label is not being reflected in funding choices. Given the opportunity to drastically expand access to child care through federal funding, Congress is instead poised to fail to provide support to families and children who need it now more than ever.

For over three decades, the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) has provided federal funding to states, “to administer their own child care subsidy programs for low-income families with children under age 13. This gives states flexibility to [supplement] their own funding with federal funds to improve the overall quality of child care available to families.” (First Five Years Fund) However, CCDBG and other federal child care subsidies are chronically under-funded, and as a result, only reach around 14% of eligible children in the nation (Administration for Children and Families, 2021). 

A recent proposal from Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) would have included increased funding to CCDBG through the federal budget reconciliation process occurring now. If enacted, this proposal would:

    • Triple the existing CCDBG to increase funds to all states ($72 billion over six years)
    • Use CCDBG to fund grants to all states to expand child care supply, improve facilities, and raise
       compensation for early childhood educators
    • Pilot a Child Care and Development Expansion program for six years
    • Invest in high-quality preschool grants for states to expand and establish programs
    • Invest in raising wages for Head Start teachers and staff
      (U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions)

Passing child care funding through reconciliation instead of through the typical budget appropriations process is the difference between saying money will be spent on child care and money can be spent on child care; it allows legislators to bring together multiple necessary revenue streams from the onset to ensure funding will be there when needed (Child Care Aware).

Guaranteed funding from diverse sources would create the conditions for child care to be understood as a cross-sector issue, one which impacts the nation’s economic, social, health, and well-being outcomes.

The measures proposed by Senators Murray and Kaine would “increase the number of families in every state who can afford child care, improve the quality of child care in every state, and establish a pilot program so that some states can test how to create a more robust system that provides a larger group of low- and middle-income children who need it with access to affordable child care.”(Center on Budget and Policy Priorities). The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) analyzed the impact the increased funding could have on each state, and found that, “Across all 50 states and D.C. and Puerto Rico, this could mean a 70 percent increase in child care access through those CCDBG investments alone.” Thriving communities depend on the well-being of all members. By investing in equitable access to the individualized resources families need when they need them, we all enjoy better outcomes.

Tragically, this proposal was stripped from the package the Senate seems prepared to advance.

If we are set to lose federal investment in child care at this scale, the damage will be vast and, sadly, predictable.

Recent surveying by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) shows that 75% of child care providers believe the end of stabilization grants will be devastating to their programs, and one-third of educators plan to leave or close their program in 2022. Child care in the United States has long been a pinch point for families and workers alike, and the COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbated existing disparities in pay, cost sharing, and access. Rising costs of child care, concerns for physical health and safety during the pandemic, and low pay for child care workers are pushing both parents and employees out of affordable, accessible child care, resulting in rippling effects through families and other sectors of the economy. Without urgent measures to stop this fall-out, “more programs are going close, more families will be unable to find care, and the impact on our economy and on families in all states and communities will be catastrophic.” (Michelle Kang, CEO of NAEYC).

All children benefit from an organized system of community resources to help them thrive. When the system is not well organized, it can be difficult for families to access resources for their children and challenging for service providers to connect families to needed supports. This can have long-lasting consequences on children’s health and well-being. Help Me Grow advances community partnerships to build strong, equitable, interconnected systems of early childhood supports and resources, making providers and families better equipped to navigate the resources that already exist in their communities, and making resources more responsive to the needs of providers and families.

In addition to the evident benefits of increased child care funding in the short-term, Help Me Grow knows that equitable access to quality childcare is an essential component of an early childhood system. Long-term resolution of the child care crisis requires long-term investment in sustainable system-building.

Pulling this funding from the budget reconciliation, in turn, pulls a robust support to the ongoing challenges families face from an underfunded system. Quality, affordable, and accessible child care remains a pressing need as our country re-defines life and work following the height of COVID-19. Funding priorities must reflect this urgency.

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Morgan Reiss is the Policy & Communications Specialist for the Help Me Grow National Center at the Office for Community Child Health at CT Children’s Medical Center.