The child care center sector in the United States was already on precarious grounds — prohibitively expensive for many families, despite operating on thin financial margins, while paying most workers less than $11 an hour.
Rep. Katherine Clark says the forced shutdowns due to COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with expensive new reopening rules, only “magnified and exacerbated” those problems.
“The pandemic shook an already fragile system and now, as our nation looks to reopen our economy, parents and providers face a nearly impossible situation,” Clark said during a press conference Tuesday.
“Neither have the resources they need to get back to work safely,” she said.
So the Melrose Democrat is introducing a bill to change that. During the online press conference Tuesday with several local parents and providers, Clark announced the Child Care is Infrastructure Act, which would invest $10 billion over five years to help child care centers make renovations and other needed changes to safely reopen during the pandemic. The bill would distribute the funds through a competitive, federally run grant program.
“It is going to allow childcare providers to cover the costs of installing hand-washing stations or modular walls,” Clark said.
Posted by Congresswoman Katherine Clark on Tuesday, June 16, 2020
Clark’s office says that 60 percent of child care providers across the country were forced to temporarily close down due to the pandemic. As parents go back to work, Gov. Charlie Baker has described day care as a key pillar of the phased reopening strategy in Massachusetts and the larger economic recovery.
Massachusetts allowed non-emergency childcare providers to resume operations in Phase 2 of the state’s reopening plan. But some providers have expressed fear that they will not be able to financially adhere to the state’s safety and health restrictions — at least not without significantly hiking parents’ fees, which can cost up to $20,000 a year in Massachusetts. Clark says the situation is poised to devastate an industry that is 96 percent run by women — of which 40 percent are women of color.
The Baker administration relaxed some of the rules Monday, eliminating a requirement that every child undergo a temperature check before entering and rolling the required ratio of teachers-to-children back to 1-to-10 (as opposed to a previously issued 2-to-10 standard during the pandemic).
But still, Jessica De Jesus Acevedo, who runs a child care program in Cambridge, said Tuesday that she wouldn’t be able to buy the bulk cleaning supplies, protective gear, and other materials required to reopen without additional funding. Sarah Sian, the director of a center in Somerville, said the “biggest funding hurdle” is salaries, especially given the need for flexibility if a teacher or child gets sick.
“We pay what we can afford and it’s still not enough,” Sian said.
Clark said her bill is meant to “complement” legislation introduced by Democrats that would spend $50 billion to help cover worker salaries and other operating costs. The 4th District congresswoman, who is also the vice chair of the House Democratic Caucus, has also called for an additional $50 billion in long-term support, including increased funding and tax credits.
The bill she introduced Tuesday would also invest $200 million into a separate grant program for centers at colleges and universities to help support students who are parents, and devote an additional $35 million to help child care workers repay student loans and pursue additional degrees in child development, which Clark described as a standalone program.
“It would be a separate program unrelated to pandemic response to allow our early educators to further their education … and not decimate their banks accounts in the process,” she said
So far, child care providers received $3.5 billion in coronavirus relief as part of the $2 trillion CARES Act. The HEROES Act passed by the Democrat-controlled House would invest another $7 billion in emergency aid into the sector.
Clark said those funds would only be “a down payment” on what providers needed. She said Democrats will continue to pressure the Republican-controlled Senate to understand the importance of the sector.
“If we want to see Americans back at work, it is all dependent on making sure our childcare providers can reopen and that families can afford the care they need to rejoin the workforce,” she said.