Editorials, Opinion

Congress must act before we careen off ‘child care cliff’

On Sept. 30, funding for the Child Care Stabilization Program ran out and experts warn that when the already-distributed dollars dry up, the nation will go careening off a “child care cliff.”

The Century Foundation reports that more than 3 million children nationwide could lose access to child care, 70,000 child care programs are likely to close and families will lose $9 billion in earnings every year. Here in West Virginia, 23,231 children will lose access to child care, 604 centers will close, parents will lose $54 million in earnings as they cut work hours and 1,009 childcare jobs will be lost.

Pre-pandemic, the Department of Health and Human Services reported that what families spent on child care was roughly 40% higher than what was considered affordable. Inflation and stagnating wages have made it even worse. Across the nation, households pay 12%-40% of their incomes towards child care. According to the Department of Labor, Monongalia County residents pay around $10,000 annually for center-based child care; the median income for the county is $56,000 per year, but 18% of the county lives at or below the poverty line.

Lack of affordable child care has a direct impact on workforce participation. In “child care deserts,” where there are no daycare or early learning centers, someone has to stay home with the child. This is usually the mother, though some families are fortunate to have relatives or friends who can help. In places where child care is available, families must carefully crunch the numbers to determine if they can afford to enroll their child in a center-based program. As hard as it may be to believe, daycare can cost more per month than one or both parents earn.

This is why the funding from the Child Care Stabilization Program was so important: Child care needs to be affordable enough for families to be able to use it, but it must have enough staff — and pay that staff a high enough salary — to keep its doors open. The CCSP helped to significantly close that gap. Without it, centers will close or downsize and costs are likely to go higher than many people can afford.

Fortunately, this is not a problem without a solution. Industry experts already know what needs to be done.

In mid-September, the Child Care Stabilization Act was introduced in both the House of Representatives and the Senate as a short-term fix, to provide $16 billion each year for the next five years to continue the Child Care Stabilization Program. Neither of version has been taken up in Congress.

The same is true for the Child Care for Working Families Act. This one is a longer-term measure focused on affordability that would mandate working families pay no more than 7% of their household income on child care — a significant improvement for everyone.

In fact, there are over a dozen congressional bills related to child care, and none of them have moved passed introduction.

When a local advocacy group reached out to our congressional delegation about the stabilization and working families acts, Rep. Mooney’s office declined to respond; Sen. Capito’s office said she is “aware of the issue”; and Sen. Manchin’s office pointed to his support for similar legislation, but did not say he supported this legislation.

Mooney, Capito and Manchin all proclaim themselves to be pro-life. We’d like to remind them that life continues after birth, and supporting a child’s life includes ensuring access to safe, affordable care. All three should support the Child Care Stabilization and Child Care for Working Families acts.