Congress, Education

Local childcare advocates push for federal legislation as funding expires and ‘childcare cliff’ looms

MORGANTOWN – A group of childcare advocates stopped at the Morgantown offices of Rep. Alex Mooney and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito on Wednesday to drop off some information on what they term the “childcare cliff” and on two bills before Congress to address the problem.

Between stops, they talked with The Dominion Post about their cause.

On Sept. 30, they said, $24 billion for the Child Care Stabilization Program allocated in the American Rescue Plan – COVID response legislation – expired.

With the money gone, they cite projections from The Century Foundation – which terms itself a progressive, independent think tank – that more than 3 million children nationwide could lose access to childcare, and 70,000 childcare programs are likely to close.

In West Virginia, the foundation projects, 23,231 children will lose access to childcare, 604 centers will close, parents will lose $54 million in earnings as they cut work hours, and 1,009 childcare jobs will be lost.

Along with printed information, the group presented both offices with a set of dominoes intended to illustrate the projected domino effect of the lost funding: lost jobs, less access to jobs, increased poverty, food insecurity, closed centers, education gaps and even loss of healthcare.

Bekah Aranda, with West Virginia NOW, said, “Childcare is the starting domino. If that domino topples, we lose so many other things in the state.” That includes the childcare workers, the families who can’t work, early education for the kids; and all that will hamper the ability to bring in new jobs and companies.

Diana Kingsbury, a retired early childhood educator who trained childcare workers and started a couple centers, said childcare is more than just school-year daycare. It has to be year-round, from birth to school age, and after school.

Her own grandson lost childcare recently after the teacher quit. “I’m babysitting my grandson right now because there’s no childcare immediately available. You’re on a wait list for a year, maybe two years before you can get a spot. And that’s in Monongalia County, where we’re better off than many, many counties.”

Adrianne Dering is vice chair of the board of West Virginia Women Work, which offers free job training to improve the lives of low-income women.

“We change their lives, we can make a 1,000% difference on their income level when they leave our program,” she said, “and we have spaces open that we cannot fill because we cannot get childcare. We can change women’s lives … and their lives can’t be changed because that’s a barrier to them.”

Alex Pettis is early childhood program director for the Morgantown Early Learning Facility and provided a first-hand view of the funding problem. ELF, as it’s called, has two sites and needs 50 people for full coverage, but has only 40.

People quit because they can find better-paying jobs, he said, and that spreads the remaining staff thin.

He cited the example of one teacher who quit last year, who helped kids develop their social, emotional and life skills. “She couldn’t get a livable wage to pay her household expenses, to put her children in childcare.”

With better funding, they could pay staff better wages, update their materials and toys, expand playgrounds to serve the kids better.

The bills the group is supporting are the Child Care Stabilization Act and the Child Care for Working Families Act.

Katie Holler, a local member of the national Campaign for Childcare, explained the bills. The Child Care Stabilization Act is a short-term fix, to provide $16 billion each year for the next five years to continue the Child Care Stabilization Program for stable, reliable funding for childcare providers.

The Child Care for Working Families Act is a longer-term measure focused on affordability. It mandates that working families pay no more than 7% of their household income on childcare. The average percentage, she said, is 12%-40%, depending on location.

The Dominion Post contacted the offices of Capito, Mooney and Sen. Joe Manchin (some of the group were arranging to visit his office at a later date) for their views on the legislation.

Capito spokeswoman Kelley Moore said, “Senator Capito is aware of the issue and understands it’s of great concern to many West Virginians. She will continue to follow and track the issue and looks forward to seeing if we can find ways to work together to reach a solution.”

Mooney’s office did not respond.

A Manchin spokesperson said, “Sen. Manchin continues to advocate for policies that support hard-working families and give every child a chance to achieve the American Dream. This includes cosponsoring the Small Business Child Care Investment Act earlier this Congress, which would increase the availability of affordable, high-quality child care to working families by allowing non-profit child care centers to apply for Small Business Administration (SBA) loans, as well as voting for $8.7 billion for the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) in the markup of the Senate FY 2024 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education appropriations bill, a $700 million increase from the previous year’s appropriation.”