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3.2 Million Children May Lose Care If Congress Lets Pandemic-Era Funds Expire

To have the child care system we deserve, child care needs funding to make it accessible and affordable.

Krystal Oliva helps her daughter, Maureen Oliva, 5, with her shoes as her son Kenzo Reeves, 8, waits while she picks them up at Wishing Well Daycare in Hayward, California, on Wednesday, December 9, 2020.

Part of the Series

It is grueling to be forced to choose between work and caring for one’s child. Yet this is the position of countless families in communities across the country — and things are about to get worse.

On September 30, pandemic-era investments under the American Rescue Plan Act for child care will cease. When this happens, more than 3.2 million children will lose access to child care nationwide. Many early childhood education and care programs will close their doors or decrease availability when they run out of federal funds. The Century Foundation estimates 70,000 child care programs could end nationwide. This will impact countless parents and caregivers who will be unable to work without the federal subsidies for child care.

Child care providers and advocates have been saying this, but so have other groups. In its latest report, The Century Foundation found also found that:

  • The loss in tax and business revenue will likely cost states $10.6 billion in economic activity per year.
  • Millions of parents will feel the impact, many will either leave the workforce or reduce their hours, costing families $9 billion each year in lost earnings.
  • The child care workforce, which has been one of the slowest sectors to recover from the pandemic, could lose another 232,000 jobs.
  • In five states — Arkansas, Montana, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia — as well as Washington, D.C., the number of licensed programs could be cut by half or more. In another 14 states, the supply of licensed programs could be reduced by one-third.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Congress and the administration can extend pandemic-era funding for early childhood education and care. We’ve seen what can happen when states adequately use these resources.

Here in Minnesota during this year’s legislative session, our Kids Count on Us team won historic funding for child care. The legislature promised to invest $300 million in early childhood education and care. Through advocacy, we also saved the pandemic-era grant program Great Start Compensation Supports, and it will now be a permanent ongoing fund for hiring and retaining early childhood educators.

This funding is meaningful because providers within our network have been able to encourage people to enter the early childhood field and retain them because they can pay them closer to the wages they deserve. This allows providers to honor the people who care for the most vulnerable among us.

I want to be clear that it took extensive organizing to make this happen. We were able to pull it off because of the deep organizing child care providers have done with other providers, and their parents, staff and communities to understand and communicate the child care crisis and take action. At the start of this legislative session, we had hundreds of leaders ready to engage with legislators and elected officials to hold them accountable for their actions and how they affect child care. These leaders showed up at the Capitol and in their home districts, and everywhere in between, making legislative visits with nearly every legislator, holding rallies, press conferences, town halls and bringing others with them. Importantly they also showed up for each other, working together for the child care system we all deserve.

We also worked closely with many other organizations across Minnesota in the early childhood space, coalescing around the recommendations of the Great Start for All Minnesota Children Task Force which came out in February. The recommendations make it explicit that, to have the child care system all Minnesotans deserve, child care needs funding to make it accessible and affordable for every family, high quality for every child and a sustainable career with living wages for educators. In the end, we pulled it off, winning everything we worked for this legislative session. But we’re only getting started.

With this funding, we’re setting a foundation. To get all Minnesota children off to a “Great Start,” we need billions of dollars of permanent, ongoing funding. It is what is necessary to address the current unaffordable child care system that exploits and underpays the providers and teachers who do this work. We will continue to organize and engage our elected leaders at every level to move us in this direction.

We know that all parents deserve quality, affordable and reliable child care, and all children deserve a safe place to be nurtured, educated and stimulated. We know what is possible with adequate investment.

Minnesota doesn’t have to be an anomaly in the United States, but funding is required. Without an extension of pandemic funding for child care, many families will be left out in the cold.

For instance, in Wisconsin, the monthly Child Care Counts program will run out of money in early 2024. In Ohio, the Senate passed a cruel version of the budget that removes hundreds of millions of dollars in child care funding from the state budget. If signed into law, it would make Ohio one of the worst states in the nation to raise a family.

I hope legislators don’t adopt a “wait and see” approach. Our children, parents, providers and businesses cannot wait.