During the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government has authorized more than $50 billion in temporary emergency funding for states to assist struggling child care facilities. But according to a survey done by The National Association for the Education of Young Children over the summer, half of those surveyed said they would have closed without public assistance.
On the west side of Chicago, the well-established Carole Robertson Center for Learning is struggling, despite a footprint in dozens of communities and a $40 million budget.
“We have a robust waitlist, it’s about 100 families. But we can’t yet open this classroom because we have to hire three qualified teachers,” Bela Moté, CEO of the Carole Robertson Center for Learning, told CBS News’ Jan Crawford.
She said the organization is struggling to hire staff at numerous locations, and at the height of the pandemic, she worried the center may be on the “brink of collapse.”
But solutions at the state level helped her center and others avert disaster. Tapping into federal emergency pandemic money, Illinois has allocated more than $1 billion in child care grants. That’s led to relief for child care workers and parents like Avonna Brown.
“I felt helpless when I thought that I wouldn’t be able to work because I couldn’t find child care and I know a lot of people didn’t have the option that I have, I was grateful that I work at a child care center,” said Brown.
It’s one approach meant to solve a critical problem made worse by the coronavirus: Helping parents find affordable child care while helping the centers attract and keep quality workers.
“You’ve got to pay the workers properly in order to keep this industry going and it already was in crisis, now worse so, it’s hobbling the economic recovery that most of the people, many of the people that are looking for work can’t find child care,” Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker told CBS News.
Pritzker has given child care workers $1,000 bonuses and offered three months of free care to parents looking for work.
“If we’re not investing in our young children, we’re creating a terrible future for ourselves,” Pritzker said. “We have to stop thinking about things in one-year increments. Investing in young children means that you’re gonna get a 20, 30, 40-year return.”
Tapping into some $50 billion in pandemic-related federal aid, Illinois and states like Tennessee are using relief funding to reduce the amount low-income families have to pay out of pocket. Michigan, New Mexico and others are upping the amount they reimburse providers that care for children receiving government assistance.
New York has given grants to providers like Jasmine Corniel.
“With the aid that’s coming in, we’ve gone in and we’re able to change certain things, update the HVAC, change the flooring. We’re able to do certain things to make sure that it’s a safer place for the kids,” Corniel said.
She is hoping to reopen one of her three New York City child care centers, which was forced to close last year.
“That literally was like our lifeline. The programs are here, they’re here to stabilize our industry. But the stabilization is supposed to be for about six months. And this pandemic is still going and families still need. So where do we go? Where do we go from here?” Corniel said.
On the federal level, President Biden has proposed a massive spending plan that includes expanded child care access and a cap on costs. The plan remains stuck in Congress, but growing bipartisan recognition that help is needed has Pritzker and others optimistic
“We need the federal government to step up annually, it can’t just be a one-time thing, the federal government should be investing in early childhood, just like states are,” Pritzker said.
Moté hopes some of these pandemic-era policies endure and that this focus on early childhood is a spark for change.
“Never have I seen an opportunity where some of the core issues that have been ignored or not understood, they’ve surfaced now…There are creative solutions that we have in this moment of time,” she said.