Congress must rescue childcare after coronavirus or the workforce won't be able to return

More than 67 percent of American children under six have all available parents participating in the workforce

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In times of national tragedy and crisis, like the one we are experiencing now in the coronavirus pandemic, we are often reminded of and reassured by the words of Fred Rogers (“Mr. Rogers”) who said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

This advice is something I’ve shared recently with the children under my care as they look for answers in what is a scary time for both children and adults. Just as Mr. Rogers said they would, countless American heroes have stepped up to provide quality care to those who are suffering from the coronavirus and to keep food and essential supplies stocked on store shelves.

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As these brave men and women risk their personal health and safety every day to care for others, childcare centers across the country have stepped up to care for the 3.5 million children of first responders and medical professionals.

If we want the helpers to be able to keep helping those in need, then we need to be there for the helpers when they need us today and tomorrow when working families all around the country return to work.

As the director of a childcare center, I can tell you that we’re doing our very best to provide access to quality care to the children of essential personnel in the fight against COVID-19 by keeping centers open where we can – especially in key markets and near hospitals – but like all small businesses right now we are struggling to keep our doors open and our lights on so that we can continue to do our part.

We are trying to contribute today – and we want to be ready to do our part in the coming months as parents return to the workforce and our economy begins to recover.

Parents will be counting on us – 67 percent of American children under six have all available parents participating in the workforce. However, the reality of our situation is that approximately 75 percent of U.S. childcare centers have already closed their doors and many won’t be able to reopen — threatening the livelihoods of over 175,000 educators — unless we get some much-needed help.

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The impact on childcare and early child education centers is real. How long we’re able to hold on, I’m afraid, is up to our elected representatives in Congress.

Just this week, the federal government released its blueprint for reopening and reigniting the economy. It was encouraging to see that reopening childcare centers was declared ou nation’s “first priority” so that working parents can return to the workforce.

Unfortunately, our industry was mostly overlooked by Congress in the most recent stimulus bill, creating an unfortunate and unnecessary childcare crisis that could drastically slow our economic recovery when our country is ready to return to work, as families and workers may have limited or no options for child care.

I would like to think that this crisis is avoidable and that it is not too late.

There are a number of policies that could help mitigate the current crisis, such as putting in place childcare stabilization measures that will provide access to much-needed capital, providing grants for facilities that are keeping their doors open throughout the crisis, and opening up access to SBA loans, similar to the relief provided to restaurants and the hospitality industry.

The economic recovery will happen in waves with families not returning at the same time as timelines will vary state-by-state.

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I know many centers, including my own, are trying to operate at reduced capacity and this may need to continue for some time to accommodate parents that can return to work during the early stages of economic recovery.

Recovery funding will be necessary to help centers keep up with mounting overhead costs.  It is also likely that we will need to invest in changes to our curriculum to accommodate children who have not had access to an educational setting in months.

The families of my children will need help too. It is my hope that Congress also provide help for families who may have seen a decrease in wages prior to returning to work by increasing eligibility and assistance through the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit; increasing contribution limits to DCAP FSAs and incentivizing companies to provide childcare assistance to employees, and considering the creation of a Child Care Tax Credit.

Getting this right is not an option. One of my children asked, “how can we help the helpers?”

If we want the helpers to be able to keep helping those in need, then we need to be there for the helpers when they need us today and tomorrow when working families all around the country return to work.

My fellow childcare providers can’t do that without just a little help from the government.

Eneisha Sambrano is the School Director at Childcare Network, a Raleigh, North Carolina- based preschool.

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